Mill Valley Community Center

In the span of less than two weeks, officials from the City of Mill Valley and the Mill Valley School District have each been feverishly searching through records associated with the ownership of Friends Field and any related documents that might provide more clarity around the possibilities associated with MVSD’s intention to build a new Mill Valley Middle School on Friends Field.

Those efforts, internal to each organizations to date, are happening with the knowledge that the district has set a March 7th hearing to make a final decision on its plans moving forward.

In the weeks since that first meeting on Feb. 1st, a group of founders of the Mill Valley Community Center, operating in recent years as the Mill Valley Friends of Parks & Recreation, have made it clear that they will work to slow the urgency of the timeline, at least in part by submitting 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 G 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. “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,” the group said in a statement.

Sports organizations associated with the use of the field also made their presence felt at a hearing last week. Mary Beth Todd, a board member of Southern Marin Lacrosse, said her group uses Friends Field “on a daily basis,” the Marin IJ reported.” She said the organization has more than 10 spring teams and benefits more than 1,000 youths a year. “Demolishing Friends Field will undoubtedly reduce the amount of activity and programming we offer to the community by at least 50%,” Todd said. “I can not overstate the importance of offering the youth in our community the opportunity to participate in sport activities.”

Mill Valley Mayor Urban Carmel sought to have both organizations let the facts drive the process, “I am gratified to hear that you are exploring all of the options equally and are gathering your facts,” he said. “These facts should include the 70-year history of collaboration with the city and the community, the designation of this land for parks and recreation in the 1956 master plan as well as the 2014 general plan and the 1968 agreement between us that any change in the usage of this land must be mutually agreed,” he said.

In June 2022, Mill Valley voters approved Measure G, a $194 million school bond, with bond proceeds intended to cover construction of a new middle school and modernization at the district’s five elementary schools. Everything changed when the district learned that it owned the vast majority of Friends Field.

District officials see the field option as an educational and environmental benefit because it would mean students wouldn’t have to attend classes in temporary portable buildings for two years while the new school is built. Others have pointed to the possibility that not moving students into temporary classrooms, it will just be much less disruptive. District officials indicated the cost savings could be somewhere between $6 million to $8 million in savings

MVSD Superintendent Elizabeth Kaufman said the research and findings “must prioritize educational value to the students, noting the importance of using Measure G funds to create a contemporary learning facility in support of teaching and learning to benefit students today and tomorrow.”

“In my opinion, the board does not have the right to use Friends Field without the cooperation of the city,” said longtime Mill Valley resident and field use supporter John Palmer, who said his conclusion came after “reading every land use document and all deeds” that he could find. He noted that past agreements for cooperation with the city “have not expired.”

Mark Chavez, an attorney, said the school district is “moving too quickly in the wrong direction” and “they need to take an offramp and develop a new approach.” Chavez has submitted a letter to the district and to the Measure G citizens committee alleging that potential construction work at Friends Field is not authorized by the bond funds. “The first public loss will be a loss in public confidence at your ability to administer bond funds,” he said.

MVSD’s board – President Sharon Nakatani, Yunhee Yoo, Michele Crncich, Elli Abdoli Hodge, Natalie Katz, along with Superintendent Elizabeth Kaufman, have largely let their representatives, namely MVSD’s Julio Arroyo, AECOM engineering’s Brett Mitchell and Sandrine Hichcock and Ryan Tognetti of Flint Builders, drive the prospects of the next phase.

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.

Mill Valley Middle School

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. 

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.”


MARINIJ COLUMNIST DICK SPOTSWOOD SUGGESTS A COMPROMISE: “Here’s an alternative. Next to Edna McGuire Elementary School are the old Alto Elementary School buildings. It’s now leased, but it’s owned by the district. MVSD should construct a new middle school on the Alto site. Yes, the district will lose lease income, but that can be recaptured. Then, the city should purchase Friends Field from the district. Finally, the district should sell the current middle school site for a fair price to private developers to build much-needed housing.”



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