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Plumas Lake plans ahead by buying land for schools
Plumas Lake elementary school students may one day attend a high school a mile or two away from their current classrooms.
A vision for a high school, intermediate school and regional park is coming together in south Yuba County, with land purchase agreements approved this week by the Yuba County Board of Supervisors and Wheatland Union High School District trustees. While the inevitable demand for new schools and recreational space is still several years away, officials said the land's purchase price was too good to pass up.
Property was last purchased for Plumas Lake schools at high prices during the housing boom, but in today's struggling economy, the agencies are getting the land for one-10th of what was paid a decade ago, said Yuba County Supervisor Roger Abe.
"It's almost irresponsible not to do it," he said.
Yuba County plans to purchase a 100-acre parcel along River Oaks Boulevard for $2 million through a trust fund for acquisition of park lands. Plumas Lake Elementary School District will eventually pay the county back for its 25-acre share, as will Wheatland Union High School District for its 50 acres, and 25 acres will be given to Olivehurst Public Utility District for a 25-acre park.
The school districts are expected to take ownership of the land by Aug. 1, but the acreage will be leased for farming until needed for construction.
"We have a long way to go before we are able to put shovels in the ground," said Plumas Lake Elementary School Superintendent Jeff Roberts.
"We are purchasing the land now knowing we will not be building the school for five, seven, 10 years," he said. "That will all depend on the time frame that growth begins and the rate of growth."
Demand for additional schools in Plumas Lake was outlined in 1993 in the community's specific plan, which calls for schools, parks and retail services for a community of up to 14,000 people, said Kevin Mallen, director of community development for Yuba County.
But development that was once booming has tapered to a virtual standstill. At 3,000 homes, the community is less than one-fourth built out, and when development will return is largely a question mark.
Roberts expressed hope that growth will be more rapid in the next several years.
Once Plumas Lake's three schools slowly reach capacity, new ones can be built.
"This is really going to be a great thing for the houses that are here and the houses that will be built here, for students to be able to attend school in their neighborhoods," he said. "Everyone wants their kids to be able to walk or ride their bikes to school."
High school students in Plumas Lake have to commute to attend Wheatland, Lindhurst, Marysville, East Nicolaus or other schools.
Monica Katz said her son, Ayden, is only in the first grade, but she still worries about where he will attend high school.
"I want him to stay with the same group of friends," she said. "There are so many people out here and so many kids are being bused out to other schools. It's a close community and I think it'd be best for all kids to stay together."
Walking her third-grader, Aijah, and kindergartner, Arianah, home from Cobblestone Elementary School on Tuesday, Alicia King said she was doubtful about any major development anytime soon.
"It seems like when we moved her they told us we would have a grocery store in a few years, and I've been here five years and we still don't have one," she said.
But as a parent, King would like to have her daughters go to school in their community, from kindergarten through their senior years.
"I love that they go to school right here where I can see the school from my driveway," King said. "Everyone who lives here who has little kids is hoping for one. Everyone wants a high school out here."
Serious conversations about the land purchase began in the beginning of this year, when the landowner contacted the districts, which reached out to the county, Mallen said.
It was an exciting development because purchasing 100 contiguous acres can be difficult, and the fact that five years ago the land had been mapped for homes and was unaffordable to the school districts.
"But now there are no homeowners knocking on property owners' doors," Mallen said. "This is definitely being proactive and making sure we are able to implement the vision of the Plumas Lake Specific Plan."
The remainder of the 250-acre parcel not purchased for schools and a park will be retained by the landowner to build 150 acres of homes.
CONTACT reporter Ashley Gebb at749-4783.