The campus of Comstock Middle School will house the new Spanish-language dual-immersion charter school slated to open in August after a unanimous vote by the Santa Rosa school board Wednesday night.
The location has been the subject of months of debate, but on Wednesday night the school board chose Comstock's 24-acre site over Lewis School on Lomitas Avenue, Cook Middle School on Sebastopol Road and the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts on Mark West Springs Road.
"It's the most viable because it's the largest and we can grow at that facility," said Trustee Donna Jeye. "At the same time, I believe there is room for three of us on that facility in the beginning."
In addition to Comstock Middle School, the site also is used by Santa Rosa Charter School.
The district expects to open the dual-immersion program with one transitional kindergarten and three traditional kindergarten classes. Curriculum will be delivered in 90 percent Spanish in early years, increasing the amount of English until, in grades four through eight, it will be half English, half Spanish.
The Santa Rosa City Council chambers were packed Wednesday with Santa Rosa Charter School supporters who spoke against any plan that would displace them. They have used a facility on Comstock's campus since 2007 for their 200 kindergarten through eighth-graders and 40 preschool families.
Moving "could ruin us," said school director LaDonna Moore.
But board members expressed support for the 18-year relationship the district has maintained with the independent charter school.
Trustee Larry Haenel said he had "no intention" of ending the license agreement the district holds with the charter school. Terminating it would result in a loss of about $127,000 a year.
After the vote, Moore expressed hope that three distinct programs could share a common campus and some of the same infrastructure, including the cafeteria and driveway.
"It looks like the next step is to sit down with all of the players and look at how we can make all three programs work at one site," she said, expressing hope that it would be successful. "I don't want to move."
No one from Comstock Middle School spoke at the meeting.
Board members said the space immediately available at Comstock allows the district time to explore if and how three distinct programs can co-exist on one site.
"It doesn't necessarily decide the fate of the charter school or Comstock as it is now," said board member Jenni Klose, of the decision to locate the Spanish-language school there. "Through the use of portables we could buy some time."
The proposal calls for using vacant rooms in 2013-14 and moving three portables to the site the following year, with additional buildings added in subsequent years.
Immediate costs are estimated at $100,000 to prepare the site for kindergartners and possibly provide a play area. A long-term estimate calls for $8.5 million in upgrades, including adding 24 classrooms to accommodate planned growth.
The school is expected to have an enrollment of 560 kindergarten through eighth-graders by 2021-22.
It was unclear Wednesday how the district would pay for the final build-out of the site.
But Trustee Larry Haenel worried aloud that too many parents who responded to a location survey expressed reservations about the Comstock site.
"The question is: Are we ready to operate a program if 53 percent drop out? Are we even going to have a Spanish immersion? That is my question," he said.