SF school board calls for $744M bond to build new schools, create arts center

The San Francisco Board of Education is asking voters to approve a $744 million facilities bond in November for the school district to refurbish property, build at least one new school and construct an arts institute.

At least 55 percent of voters need to cast their ballots in favor of Proposition A for the San Francisco Unified School District to receive the funding, $409 million of which would be used to modernize and fix dozens of school facilities.

The district has not put a facilities bond before voters since 2011 and, according to Interim Superintendent Myong Leigh, needs the money to complete projects.

“We don’t have the resources anywhere close to this scale within our operating fund or other facilities fund,” Leigh said, noting that the district has some 140 facilities to maintain and about 40 sites that need “a broad scope of work” done.

The more noteworthy aspects of the bond are the $100 million the SFUSD hopes to use to build possibly two schools in Mission Bay and the Bayview, as well as the decision to spend another $100 million to move Ruth Asawa School of the Arts to the Civic Center neighborhood.

With development booming, student enrollment is expected to overflow SFUSD classrooms within the next decade unless the district builds new schools.

“This is especially acute in the areas of The City where we’re going to see a lot of development,” said school board President Matt Haney. “It’s critical that if these communities are going to be welcoming to families, that they require neighborhood public schools.”

Upcoming developments in the Bayview — at the Hunter’s Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point — are expected to produce large amounts of affordable housing units and, as a result, a high number of students for the public school system, according to Leigh.

The Mission Bay development, on the other hand, is smaller but slated for completion sooner. The neighborhood also features a vacant, 2.2 acre parcel set aside for the SFUSD to build a school on.

“There’s a plot of land that’s sitting vacant with weeds growing on it that the school district has been gifted,” Haney said. “All we have to do is put a building there and fill it with kids.”

As for the district-wide arts institute, the SFUSD has for some two decades hoped to move Ruth Asawa to a former high school building on Van Ness Avenue, between Hayes and Fell streets, which is currently used for facilities administrators.

The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake made the building unsuitable for students, but should it pass, the facilities bond would cover almost a third of the funding needed for the district to correct the seismic issues as well as help the district refurbish two adjacent buildings to create the entire Arts Center.

Those buildings are the historic Nourse Theater and abandoned building at the corner of Franklin and Fell streets.

“This is really something that should have been done a long time ago,” said Haney, who noted that the district has previously received bond money set aside for the project.

“In the past, we didn’t feel quite ready,” Haney added. “The plan wasn’t in place and we had other priorities that we needed to take care of with the bond money … We actually feel like this is an opportunity to get it done this time.”

Smaller portions of bond money would also improve the district’s environmental sustainability, increase technology and help implement scratch cooking for school meals as well as transform cafeterias into start-up style dining halls.

If the bond does not pass, Leigh said the district “might and probably would propose another bond authorization at some point in the future.”

The next scheduled election is in 2018.

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