By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
New 700-student campus may open as charter school
Placeholder Image

The South County’s next public school could open with space for 700 kindergarten through eighth grade students but without a single “local” student sitting in a desk.

That’s because not a single home probably will have been built in the community that it will serve by the time the campus is ready to open.

Instead, it either could be filled with students on inter-district agreements or open as a charter school.

It is part of a plan being pursued by River Islands at Lathrop in conjunction with the Banta School District to build a $25 million campus within the next two to three years or so in the planned community of 10,200 homes on Stewart Tract.

A final decision is expected in the next few months on whether to proceed.

If it does go forward, Cambay Group - developers of River Islands - is committed to buying the $10.5 million bonds to provide the local match for school construction funds from the State Allocation Board. Moving forward now would mean the district and Cambay Group would be assured of state participation. There is a growing concern that once the state bond money the allocation board currently has is committed it will be difficult for the state to float future bonds. Not just because they require voter approval but due to concerns California’s borrowing costs may skyrocket due to its ongoing budget problems.

It would also give River Islands a rare - and effective - marketing tool when home sales start. That sales tool is the school is already built where future residents’ children will attend.

At the same time, River Islands could become the cutting edge for public education in California.

The Banta school board is pondering the possibility of all nine of the future schools on River Islands being opened as charter schools. That means Banta School District would give parents and children options of the type of educational program they want.

The first school that could be built in River Islands is actually two schools that adjoin each other on 30-plus acres. It will include half of an elementary campus and half of a middle school campus.

The decision to go forward with the school underscores the commitment to sound planning, the ingenuity to work out private sector solutions to major challenges imposed by government regulations and the financial ability to be patient on the part of Cambay Group.

They have invested over $150 million so far and haven’t generated a single dime in revenue. They do not expect to start building homes any sooner than late 2013 or early 2014 given the current market conditions.

While building is picking up somewhat, they have no desire to dilute the value of their investment by flooding the market.

Meanwhile, they got around a major stumbling block of creating 100-year-flood protection by essentially building a dry levee next to existing levees to create a 300-foot wide wall of protection against the San Joaquin River.

The super levees are by far the biggest in California and takes Stewart Tract not just out of the 100-year flood plain but the 200-year flood plain as well. The $70 million investment also allowed them to forgo the drawn-out levee enhancement application process with the Army Corps of Engineers that was going nowhere fast.

River Islands also solved another major issue that has stymied state government and environmentalists - river habitat restoration as well as universal river access.

The project is designed to restore river side vegetation as much a possible to its natural state while allowing universal access to the river and Paradise Cut around the entry perimeter of River Islands.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District worked with River Islands to set up the Lathrop Irrigation District as a retail provider that is expected to have rates as much as 25 percent lower than PG&E’s when it comes on line.

River Islands, in short, is the real deal when it comes to thorough all encompassing planning right down to strict requirements for moisture sensors in front yards and common landscaping to reduce the consumption of water.

This, by the way isn’t Cambay Group’s first rodeo in California. The England-based investment company spent 18 years bringing the 10,000-home Dougherty Valley project in Contra Costa County to fruition.

When all is said and done Cambay Group may end up rewriting the book on the best development practices for the Golden State.