Changes afoot for Atascadero Junior High and its students

Atascadero Junior High School.
Atascadero Junior High School.

With a massive overhaul on the way, Atascadero Junior High School could see its student population swell.

The Atascadero Unified School District Board of Trustees is considering adding sixth-graders to the campus at Lewis and Olmeda avenues and converting it to a middle school.

In January, the district’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee recommended taking that step, arguing that the switch would boost academic performance and relieve overcrowding at elementary schools. Seventh- and eighth-graders would continue to attend classes there.

School board President Corinne Kuhnle said the district will hold a public workshop on grade reconfiguration at a yet-to-be-determined date.

On Tuesday, the school board unanimously approved plans to rebuild most of the junior high school at its current site.

Constructing new classrooms, while retaining the school’s gym, cafeteria and other facilities, will cost approximately $30.9 million.

Expenses would be covered by the $117 million school improvement bond measure approved by local voters in November 2010.

“I look at this as an insurance policy for other district projects (in the works),” Kuhnle said of the board’s decision. “Especially in this financially challenging time, I feel we’re doing the right thing by staying within our means.”

Board members also discussed the possibility of leasing 3 to 4 acres of commercial property on the downtown campus. That would leave the junior high school ample area for classrooms and athletic fields while clearing the way for commercial development near the historic City Administration Building, said Stu Stoddard, the district’s director of support services.

The school board originally considered building a new junior high school on district-owned property adjacent to San Benito Road Elementary School.

On Tuesday, however, board members expressed concerns about the steep price tag — $49.5 million —as well as the unfinished nature of the 17.26-acre parcel. The surrounding area has “no curbs, gutters, sidewalks or streets,” Stoddard said.

In contrast, the downtown site has already undergone development, he said.

It also enjoys proximity to Colony Square, Galaxy Theatres and the new site of the Atascadero-Martin Polin Library, Kuhnle said.