Gold Ridge’s future charted
Keep big Pekkain Hall and lease out offices to non-profit groups
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By Jud Snyder  July 19, 2013 12:00 am

As far as the future of Gold Ridge School’s concerned, one part of Rohnert Park’s City Hall has already figured it out.

This is the Community Services Dept. and it also includes the Dept. of Public Works and the city’s Recreation Dept. John McArthur’s head of Community Services and public works and he sees the former elementary school’s six-acre site near the eastern end of Golf Course Drive becoming a location for city recreation programs and offices for nonprofits.

For allies, he’s enlisted the help of city staffers Guy Miller and Nelle Herman, both based in Peter M. Callinan Sports and Fitness Center, and Tom Kelley with Dept. of Public Works.

Now, all he has to do is convince the city council his plan makes sense.

The council previously told McArthur to get “citizen input” about Gold Ridge’s future and two meetings were held this month (July 11 and 16) in Julan Pekkain Auditorium on the school’s campus. Audiences at both meetings were shown alternatives. One was to do nothing, a choice tossed out by the city council, and the second was to have recreation programs in the main hall (Pekkain) and keep administrative offices and portable classrooms attached but closed. The third was to keep the main hall and tear down the other office buildings. McArthur’s choice, the fourth, was to keep all buildings open and lease out offices and portable classrooms to area nonprofits.

About 18 people were in the audience Tuesday, July 16, and they favored McArthur’s choice, even though he had no firm nonprofit tenants standing in line ready to sign leases.

Complicating the issue is the city owns the property, but the Cotati-RP School District ran the school. This was solved when the school district closed Gold Ridge Elementary School due to a lack of students in 2008 and buses took students to other schools. It sat vacant for four years until the school district gave Gold Ridge to the city by bowing out altogether in 2012.

McArthur, Miller and Herman ran a series of recreation programs in Pekkain Auditorium and “these turned out to be quite successful – better than we anticipated,” said McArthur.

Vandalism during the four years it was closed became a problem. It included graffiti, office ransacking, pulling out wires, tearing carpets and leaving a mess. Kelley took over an anti-vandalism program with more watchful eyes at night, adding more lights to the buildings and increased police patrols. McArthur and Kelley contend a greater use of the site will further decrease vandalism. “We’re busy cleaning up the area,” said Kelley. “Each week we get a little more cleaned up and restored to what it should be.”

They both see a total upgrade of the entire site with programs continuing in Pekkain Auditorium and nonprofits leasing office and classroom space the vandalism attacks will diminish hastily.

”We see nonprofits like alternative schools, Boys and Girls clubs, YMCA, YWCA, the CYO teams, youth athletic groups for youngsters, 4-H and FFA agricultural clubs could use the space,” said McArthur.

He was asked if “soft impact” businesses like bank branches, title companies and mortgage loan offices could possibly be tenants.

“No,” he said. “No commercial uses would be allowed. It’s zoned for educational purposes and nonprofits only.” 

But couldn’t the zoning be changed? McArthur couldn’t see this happening. “It would mean an amendment to the city’s General Plan and I doubt this possibility very much.”

There was no talk about the increased traffic on Golf Course Drive if McArthur’s plan is adopted by the city council. One G Section resident commented, “So what? It would just be like the school was open again.”

At one time, Golf Course Drive was planned to be extended eastward to Petaluma Hill Road. At that time, years ago, Sonoma State University had a proposal to buy land here and build housing, single family and apartments with an entrance on Petaluma Hill Road for faculty and students.

But the university dropped the idea and built student housing on its own campus instead.

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