The Santa Rosa school district is hoping to open a charter school for career and technical education on the West College Avenue site that formerly housed the Sonoma County Water Agency.
The Santa Rosa City Schools board will meet Tuesday to discuss acquiring the property at 2150 W. College Ave, the former water agency campus that is now partially occupied by homeless campers trying to focus attention on homeless people’s needs.
“Securing the ... property for this innovation is a critical first step,” Superintendent Socorro Shiels said in a statement released through a school district attorney, Patrick Wilson.
Shiels said the district first looked at the property in the spring of 2014. School bond measures passed by voters last November would support the purchase, she said.
The property is priced at $6.1 million and has been on the market since 2014. The water agency moved to larger quarters in 2011.
Santa Rosa last year rezoned the parcel for high-density development and it was discussed as a site for a multi-use affordable-housing project. Affordable-housing developer Burbank Housing offered $3.5 million in a rejected bid.
On Monday, advocates raised questions about the district’s plan to create a separate campus for vocational education and whether that would be the best use of the property.
Vocational education is “useful, but in the process, these kids are losing so much that they get in high schools — extracurriculars, school sports, being with all kinds of kids, kids who are going to college,” said David Grabill.
A longtime Sonoma County affordable-housing attorney, Grabill also works with Quality Education for Every Student, which in 2012 unsuccessfully sued to stop the closure of Doyle Park Elementary School so its campus could be turned into a bilingual French-English charter school.
Grabill said multi-family affordable housing should be prioritized for the 7.5-acre site, given its size and location near Stony Point Road, shopping, public transportation and several schools.
Other housing advocates said they didn’t know enough to comment on the district’s plans, but worried about the loss of potential housing options.
“I definitely think we need to be very careful about taking available land out of the equation for housing because housing is desperately needed in Sonoma County, for almost all income groups,” said Gale Brownell, a council member of the Sonoma County Housing Coalition.
In her statement, Shiels said the three buildings on the site — which includes 5.7 buildable acres — are important to the project’s success.
“The programmatic discussions about how we do this will follow” the acquisition, she said. “We would engage in deep and thoughtful discussions with industry leaders and educators about how we can do education differently in a smaller innovative space meant to be responsive to our ever-changing local economy needs.”
Should the purchase go through, formal discussions about the planned school will start this winter, she said.
“We feel very strongly that this is an incredible upstream investment for the community,” she said.
The site has taken on a certain notoriety of late.
On Labor Day, activists organized a protest at the site in the form of a homeless encampment meant to draw attention to the need for additional services and shelter to combat homelessness. There were about 25 tents at the site Monday, in a corner of the property.