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San Benito High School projects costing $102 million near completion

Voters rejected a $30 million bond in 2020 and two measures with total funding of $62.5 million were not enough to pay for construction, forcing the district to secure a bridge loan to keep construction moving forward.

San Benito High School is nearing completion of numerous construction projects, after overcoming a shortfall in bond money. The upgrades will settle a list of safety problems, improve technology and promote career education.

The entire project was originally funded through local bond measures G and U, plus state matching and grant funds for a total cost of $102.5 million, according to SBHS District Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum. 

The money saga began with two county ballot measures, G in 2014, and U in 2016. They spawned $62.5 million in bonds for facility repairs and upgrades. But in 2020 voters turned down Measure L, which would have raised $30 million to improve student safety by installing secure school entrances, fencing, cameras and a multipurpose cafeteria building for assemblies. If it had passed it would have added a 10th bond on every property owner’s tax bill. 

The two bond issues allowed completion of 34 projects plus part of a science and robotics building. Measure G covered, for example, roof repairs and seismic safety upgrades. Measure U, which made local property owners responsible for repaying $60 million at $30 per $100,000 of assessed value of their homes over 30 years, funded new classrooms and better IT hardware among other projects.

According to the 2019 independent audit report of measures G and U, 14 unfinished projects remained, totaling $16.2 million in commitments.

Tennenbaum told BenitoLink this week that the district obtained a two-year, low-cost bridge loan in 2019 while the matching state grants were being processed. The loan was paid off in June. Tennenbaum did not give details of the loan amount or its interest rate. The loan covered two more buildings, along with the construction of Baler Plaza and Associated Student Body Courtyard.

The school has already used bond money for “upgraded existing infrastructure” and built “state-of-the-art facilities” including a career education building, a science-engineering-robotics building and a performing site, Tennenbaum said. He also said all classrooms are now climate-controlled and run on new solar technology. Solar installations should save millions of dollars in energy costs, he added.

San Benito High School’s current student population is approximately 3,100 and is expected to grow by 1,600 over the next 10 years, according to a study presented to the board of trustees. The two bond measures addressed the immediate pressure of an ever-increasing student population. 

According to the district, monies from both bonds would be locally controlled and could not be taken by the state, but they are subject to annual audits.

Ongoing projects, according to San Benito High School construction manager Rob Zimmerman’s report, include night lights for the new softball stadium funded by a $396,000 donation from the Barragan family in Hollister. There’s also a new audio-visual system consisting of two large monitors, speakers, wireless microphones and a touchscreen controller that has been installed in the library and is optimized for board meetings. 

The old Career Technical Center building will be removed, most likely in August 2022 along with the replacement of the Maintenance, Operations and Transportation building. A transportation shop will eventually be added to a maintenance building.

A student union complex is still unfinished but “important to us for both programmatic and safety reasons,” Tennenbaum said at a recent board meeting.

 

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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]