Board OKs site for SW Fresno middle school

Fresno Unified school trustees on Wednesday moved forward on plans to build a long-awaited southwest Fresno middle school at the Carver Academy site -- a decision that will end three decades of crosstown busing.

The board voted unanimously to select the site at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near Church Avenue, paving the way for the district to begin the process of environmental studies and acquiring additional property.

Trustee Cal Johnson, who represents the southwest area, compared the busing of more than 600 students to schools outside their neighborhoods to students in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"We sent them early across town and brought them back late in the evening, denying them the opportunity to participate in after-school activities," he said.

While trustees commended each other on righting a wrong, the decision was not without controversy.

Several members of the Golden Westside Planning Committee chastised the board for deciding against a site many in the community preferred -- vacant property across the street from Carver. But the property is outside Fresno Unified's boundary.

While the community welcomes and appreciates a new school, "it's a bittersweet moment for us," said Robert Mitchell, a member of Golden Westside.

Mitchell implored the board to come back to the table and revisit the site issue.

There hasn't been a traditional middle school in the southwest area of Fresno Unified since 1979, when Irwin Junior High School was closed.

Plans call for the district to level Carver and build a larger, two-story campus on 22 acres.

The district owns the 8-acre Carver property and will have to acquire another 13.5 acres to the north and east of the school. The new middle school would extend north to Church Avenue.

There are 38 residential properties, a shopping strip and a church in the path of the proposed campus. The properties will have to be acquired and residents, many of whom are renters, will have to be relocated.

Construction on the estimated $20 million to $30 million campus could begin in spring 2011; barring delays, the school could be ready for the start of the 2013-14 year.

Most of the school's costs will be paid for by federal stimulus funds. During construction, Carver's 115 fifth- and sixth-grade students will go to nearby King Elementary School.

In other action

Trustees discussed how they might spend $13.1 million in federal funds the district will receive under President Barack Obama's Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act.

Trustee Larry Moore insisted the district use the funds to rehire teachers who have been laid off and reduce class sizes that were recently bumped up to save money. The board is expected to make a decision on spending the funds in mid-October.

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