Mill Valley Community Center

UPDATE 2.6.24: Regarding a possible future location of the Mill Valley Middle School, Friends of Fields (“FOF”) has submitted a “demand of Friends of Fields for an emergency meeting of the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC), which is responsible for monitoring the spending of Measure O bond funds by the Mill Valley School District. The CBOC also advises the Board of Education and the public on whether these expenditures comply with the law. To verify bond funds are being used as intended, appointment of independent counsel and report to the public invoking the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee’s oversight and accountability authority over the expenditure of Measure G funds. In view of the nature and gravity of the issues raised by this demand, the Mill Valley School District should refrain from interfering with the CBOC’s ability to ensure that Measure G funds are expended only for their intended purposes. FOF hereby demands that the School District suspend all actions related to the expenditure of Measure G funds, including but not limited to, entering into contracts, approving proposals or taking any other actions involving Measure G funds for 60 days to afford the CBOC an adequate opportunity to verify that funds are being used for their intended purpose.


Read below for the full story from February 1st.

A confluence of Mill Valley’s most influential power brokers – City Hall, the City Council, the Mill Valley School District, the Mill Valley Community Center facility and the legion of sports organizations supporting programs for hundreds of kids – found themselves at an unexpected crossroads February 1st about the future home of the Mill Valley Middle School.

MVSD’s board – President Sharon Nakatani, Yunhee Yoo, Michele Crncich, Elli Abdoli Hodge, Natalie Katz, along with Superintendent Elizabeth Kaufman, took input from 30 attendees before turning it over to MVSD staff and their reps on how to move forward on a proposed new Middle School, before they turned it over to their representatives, namely MVSD’s Julio Arroyo, AECOM engineering’s Brett Mitchell and Sandrine Hichcock and Ryan Tognetti of Flint Builders to present the options.

At issue is a longstanding, 13-acre, dilapidated middle school that sits at 425 Sycamore Ave., just a few steps away from the Mill Valley Community Center, which has served as a platform for just about every manner of human activity you can think of, from myriad youth sports games spanning more than 2,500 registered participants to City-sponsored events, drawing in hundreds of families, including the Mill Valley Music Festival, which attracts more than 10,000 people across two days in May, as well as the KIDDO Memorial Day Carnival that sees thousands of participants over the Memorial Day weekend, as well as practices, weddings, graduations, summer camps, the fitness facility, swimming pool and much more. Here’s the district’s rationale.

And here’s the rub: In its quest to identify an alternative location for a new MV Middle School, district officials have, at least in these preliminary stages, targeted a portion of Friends Field, in the area closest to the baseball diamond near the Community Center Parking lot. 

That possible location appears to have come as a surprise to many. As the district board spelled out in the meeting, their chosen firm of Lionakis Architectural identified the field adjacent to MVMS as optimal for a location for the Middle School reconstruction. That option was discounted when the district assumed it belonged to the city. In the August to December time frame, it was revived and the focus shifted to building the MVMS project on the existing site and to explore options for temporary student classrooms.

The district then did a title search and confirmed that Friends Field is district property.

City Manager Todd Cusimano submitted a letter prior to the hearing that spelled out several years of work between the two agencies to draft a Joint Use Agreement to formalize and provide clarity on the City’s responsibilities in programming, using, and maintaining District property, including Friends Field. 

Mill Valley Middle School

“Unfortunately, despite five years of discussion, negotiations, and numerous public meetings at the Parks and Recreation Commission, the revised use agreement between the City and District was not finalized,” Cusimano wrote. “The District struggled to pay the high costs of maintaining the field, leading to an agreement that the City would renovate the field and charge fees for afternoon and weekend use to support field maintenance and upkeep. The initial renovation cost the City around $1 million, and over the years the City has dedicated substantial funds from its own budget, along with those raised by the Friends of Fields and user fees, all for the benefit of the field. In all, the City estimates that it has contributed over $3.5 million for repairs and maintenance, including a significant renovation in 2019. 

The history and significance of Friends Field are intertwined with the adjacent Community Center, which was constructed with a combination of public and private funds. It was built at a cost of $12.8 million in 1997 (equivalent to $25 million today), with $6 million ($11.7 million today) from community donations. Community members involved in the fundraising effort shared stories of hundreds of children who brought their piggy banks to contribute to this cherished community asset. 

“Placing the new school campus on Friends Field would have a considerable impact on the Community Center and would significantly alter its function and financial viability,” Cusimano wrote. “While the City and District function independently, each with its administration, board, and tax revenue, we have consistently collaborated. 

The Hearing

Mill Valley Mayor Urban Carmel kicked off the public comment period, limited to one minute per person: “The City of Mill Valley and the school district are separate entities, and we have a long history of working together. This was city land and the decision was made to swap those parcels, to put the Public Safety Building on Hamilton Drive and put the school in the right position for children to walk and bike to school, and to make the field the beloved place it is today. Friends Field is our city’s living room. It is irreplaceable.”

While Carmel hoped to have additional time to speak to the board and offer more of that broader historical context, Nakatani had established that no speaker could extend beyond one minute.

Carmel didn’t get the opportunity to share with the board that efforts to come up with a broader agreement between the two agencies dates back multiple district superintendents, multiple city managers and multiple staff in those agencies.

“This process may feel rushed,” Nakatani told the board and attendees who were able to attend the meeting in person. “But we have been engaging with our community partners since last September. We want to make sure it’s clear that no decision has been made.”

“You waited years to get financing in the lowest history of interest rates in the US and are now seeking to do it while rates, supplies and labor are at all time high is misguided,” said longtime local resident, Community Center patron and Mill Valley Friends of Parks and Recreation supporter Rich Robbins said. “The genesis of the project of the community center was that we needed a core center of the community for all ages, including the Redwoods. It has worked. I think this is sacrilegious to not look at alternatives.”

”The fact that this field has been run by the city on behalf of the whole community for 25 years is a testament to the partnership the city and school district has had all these years,” added Dennis Fisco. “I strongly urge you to take a step back and avoid the damage to whatever goodwill you still have.”\

“This is a situation where you need to get some independent legal advice, which appears to be what is driving this decision,” said resident Mark Chavez. “I don’t think you have accounted for regulatory hurdles or the litigation risk if you go forward with this decision.“

A number of teachers and parents pushed back on that. Edna McGuire teacher Erin Frazier said that eliminating the need for interim housing, and the savings that might come with it, it would be irresponsible for the board not to consider it.”

District parent Emily Montalvan said she was troubled by the potential negative impact for thousands of kids. “The community center has been an amazing place for the whole community. It’s beautifully set up, I’m really proud of what they’ve done and it would be as disservice to the community to (change it).”

On behalf of the Mill Valley Soccer Club, Wendy Verrett said that she’d like to understand the plans to continue the development for these athletes in the interim. What is your plan to provide space for these kids?”

“We must evolve and we must think about who is our ultimate customer here,” said board member Michele Crncich Hodge. “It is not the adults. I want to honor history because we want to teach that to our children.”

“Can you come prepared in February to show a plan that is going to make our community see how we honor this space and the configuration and beauty of but bring something that might enhance that” Crncich Hodge added. “We are bringing our children to that space.”

Design options are expected to come to the board in March.

Construction & $$$

Officials have indicated that the district faces $115 million to $130 million in proposed hard construction costs for the new construction, with an additional $20 million needed from the state fund to complete funding of MVMS, pending the approval of a state bond measure that would issue $14 billion in bonds to fund construction and modernization of public education facilities across the state.

In addition, the middle school would need an estimated $15 million for temporary classrooms during construction. Funds would be expended on temporary, short term facilities which would need to be removed after completion of the Middle School construction, officials said. 

District officials have determined that they must make a decision by March 7. 

“At the end of the day, fiscal responsibility should be our focus,” said board member Yunhee Yoo. “I am concerned that we do not have sufficient funds to modernize our elementary schools. I hate having to depend on the state passing a bond measure and us not having the money yet.”

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