ATWATER – The Atwater Elementary School District broke ground on the new Juniper Elementary School site Friday afternoon, days after the school board approved a lease-leaseback deal to help pay for the ninth school in the district.

The school will be built on a 10-acre site at Juniper Avenue and Bridgewater Street, in front of Joan Faul Park in the City of Atwater.

“This is a growing community,” said Sandra Schiber, superintendent of the Atwater Elementary School District. “I believe people are happy with the educational system, so this is just another piece to be proud of.”

The new school is expected to serve around 600 students from transitional kindergarten through the sixth grade. There will be four classrooms for TK and kindergarten and 21 classrooms serving first through sixth grade. In addition, the school will have 45 employees, which includes administrators, support staff, and faculty. The school will have administrative offices, a multi-purpose building and athletic fields.

The school board selected C.T. Brayton & Sons, Inc., as the contractor for the project after announcing a request for proposals in October.

The company submitted the best proposal in a competitive bidding process and the contract, according to district officials, totals $16.2 million.

The total cost of the project is projected to be $32 million, with the remainder of the financing for the project coming from the $20 million Measure E bond passed in 2018 and an estimated $12 million from the school district’s own coffers.

The current payment schedule, the sublease agreement shows, will have the district make 19 payments starting next month. The last payment is scheduled for Sept. 30, 2023, although a final payment schedule, together with the amount of the monthly lease payments, will be brought back to the board for approval at the next board meeting.

Lease-leaseback is a way of financing new construction of a campus, in which the school district leases the property to the construction company for a small amount.

The construction company takes on all the costs of construction at the outset of the project and the school district pays the company back through monthly lease payments for a set period of time – in this case, about a year and a half, according to lease-leaseback contract documents.

“We’re very excited to get this project underway and we’ll begin seeing activity on the site by the end of this month,” said Aaron Delworth, the assistant superintendent of business services.

“What it really comes down to on a project this size, lease-leaseback is typically a better option. The contractors are part of the process early on, whereas typically with design-build, the contractor doesn’t come on until everything’s ready to go.”

C.T. Brayton & Sons, Inc., headquartered in Escalon, just north of Modesto, was awarded a pre-construction services contract in the school board’s regular meeting on Dec. 14m before the lease-leaseback contract itself was awarded in the Atwater Elementary School Board meeting Feb. 8.

The other two contractors to submit full proposals were Lodi-based F&H Construction and Acme Construction, headquartered in Modesto.

The subcontractors on the project were also approved during the Feb. 8 board meeting, and more than half are from Fresno, Merced and Stanislaus Counties, school officials said during the meeting.

Construction is expected to start in March and the new school is expected to open in August 2023, officials said.

“The students, the families, all these homes here are going to benefit,” said Scott Lee, Atwater Elementary School Board trustee for Area 3. “We look forward to having a new school in 2023.”

The new school will also have amenities like electric vehicle charging stations, a STEM lab incorporated in the learning resources center, a large kitchen area, and an incorporated indoor stage for school productions. All of the school facilities would be solar-panel ready.

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