Fifteen years after shuttering Richard Crane Elementary, school district officials this summer will reopen the Rohnert Park school.
Declining enrollment and a more than $2 million deficit forced the Cotati-Rohnert Park school district to shut down the campus near the corner of Camino Colegio and Southwest Boulevard in 2002 and disperse its students to other schools.
With new housing projects underway, Superintendent Robert Haley said the district determined it was necessary to reopen the campus as a year-round transitional kindergarten-through-fifth grade school to handle an anticipated enrollment increase.
“It’s emotional to see a school come back to life,” Haley said, noting that many residents who as children attended the decades-old school plan to enroll their kids there.
The site took on various uses after it closed. Haley said it briefly served as a storage space for the district, as well as housing two alternative schools over the years.
In 2011, it started housing Credo High School. The Waldorf-inspired charter school earlier this month moved about two miles down the road to Sonoma Mountain Village, a $1 billion mixed-use project that will include 1,694 homes.
Haley expects that development, as well as the more than 1,600 housing units expected to be built in the so-called University District neighborhood near Sonoma State University, to boost enrollment in the school district, which serves about 6,000 students.
The district will start out offering one class for every grade level at Richard Crane Elementary. Enrollment should be between 100 and 150 the first year, Haley said.
However, he expects it will continue to grow. He said the year-round schedule is popular among parents who don’t want their children to experience summer learning loss.
Instead of the whole summer off, students at the year-round school get about a month off in the summer and extended breaks throughout the rest of the year, said Tracy Farrell, president of the school board. Her three children currently attend the year-round school at Evergreen Elementary School.
“It’s kept (them) engaged and excited about going to school,” she said about the shorter summer break.
The district started offering the year-round program at Evergreen Elementary in 2011 in addition to its traditional school calendar. Farrell said it’s been difficult offering two different school year schedules on a single campus, so the district thought it would be better to have the year-round program on a separate campus. The district started to talk about reopening Richard Crane Elementary more than a year ago, she added.
Built in the 1970s, the Richard Crane Elementary campus currently is undergoing renovations that will cost about $6 million to $7 million, Haley said. The project started in the fall, although the district waited until the beginning of this year to start demolition and major work, Haley said.
Construction workers tore down old portable buildings on the east end of the campus to make way for the building that will house four kindergarten classrooms.
Workers also ripped out interior walls in the four classroom pods surrounding the administration building, which also is undergoing a renovation to expand and open up the space. Glass folding doors will separate the classrooms in the pods to encourage teachers to join their spaces and team up on instruction, said Teresa Ruffoni, principal of Richard Crane Elementary.