Weekend Wellness at Rising Sun

Irrigator file photo Students at Rising Sun prepare Weekend Wellness packages for families in need on Oct. 20, 2017.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include the amount of savings the city anticipates as a result of refinancing a bond.

The Nov. 5 City Council meeting covered a lot of ground: A bridge rebuild on Rogers Road, the soon-to-be-built affordable apartments, refinancing a water bond and even a few comments on the “Patterson Through the Years” production which was staged the Saturday before.

Senior Center update

Former Mayor Pat Maisetti took advantage of the public comment period to give the group an update on the goings-on at the Hammon Senior Center. Various classes, including conversational English, cooking and an AARP Driver Safety training (those who complete the class get a discount on their car insurance). The group is also doing a lot of volunteer work, she said – about 300 hours in each of the last two months. There are now 677 members, with about 50 added over the last couple of months.

Maisetti also issued an invitation to councilmembers to visit the center, and invited the community to attend the “Community Unity” dance at the Senior Center, held last Saturday, during which four former mayors, Becky Campo, David Keller, Pat Maisette and Frank Bettencourt, along with current mayor Deborah Novelli, joined the band onstage for a rousing rendition of “Feelin’ Alright,” the 1968 hit written by Dave Mason. The former mayors, except Keller, were part of the rhythm section, playing various percussion instruments. Keller, who has had his own band, Highway 33, for many years, played the guitar. A story on that event appears on page 3 of this newspaper.

Rising Sun update

Operations Coordinator Amy Thorpe and Special Education Teacher, Rising Sun Transition to Success Raquel DonBatalla, who run the facility, gave a presentation on the school, which serves students with moderate to severe disabilities between the ages of 18 and 22.

The facility is 149 years old, and served families working on the 5,000-acre El Solyo Ranch, from kindergarten to fifth grade, until 2009, when it was closed due to the recession. The school reopened in 2010 as transition center for students with moderate to severe disabilities, and serves the Patterson Joint Unified and Crows Landing school districts.

Thanks to district leadership’s vision and significant grant money, the school has come a long way oer the past several years. It offers a unique life skills development program, and currently serves 21 students. In addition to the traditional curriculum, the farm has livestock: two pygmy goats and llamas, along with 11 hens that produce “a lot of eggs,” DonBatalla said. Lavender is grown on a football-sized field, and is used for aromatherapy products like lavender wraps, sachets and much more. that the students make and sell. Filtered rainwater from the tops of the buildings feeds the pond, which has fish. The site also features raised bed gardens, where students grow fruits and vegetables, started from seed. The winter garden currently includes things like broccoli and cauliflower.

The site also features a large commercial greenhouse, Thorpe said, where students grow succulents and vegetables from seed, which she described as “a labor of love…Everything is hand-mixed, by students, hand grown, and everything is grown by seed.”

The students have planted native plant garden in front, with design help from the California Native Plant Society. “We display a lot of ecologically friendly ways to grow plants, Thorpe said.

“A lot of the kids are amazing sewers,” Thorpe said. The students make all kinds of products; all our aromatherapy products are hand-sewn. They make bags, they make aprons, and they really do just a remarkable job.”

Weekend Wellness

The school has a “Weekend Wellness Program,” Thorpe said. “We feed 20 families of the district in need, every Friday. So we put together 20 boxes of food,” with donations from the school district and local businesses, Thorpe said. The boxes also include as much fresh food grown on the farm as possible.

Field trips

One of the visions of the school district, Thorpe said, is that the site used by other schools and the community. “We host numerous field trips. Last week, we had 550 students on-site. Four hundred and eleven students participated in the harvest festival, and the After School Program visits the site, as well.

Easter Egg Hunt

This annual event is “more than just an Easter egg hunt,” Thorpe said, “we have a petting zoo; we have face painting; we have a plant sale, and it’s really something that’s brought together the whole community.” Sponsors generously donate supplies, and lot of volunteers come out to help. The event has been so successful, she said, that an afternoon hunt has been added. Anticipate it will be even bigger.

Job skills training

There is an emphasis on production and marketing, Thorpe said. Student-made products “actually go out on the road quite often; to Modesto Farmers Market two to three times a month; we participate in local craft fairs, and the Apricot Fiesta; and the students really get a chance to interact with the public, and show off all the great things that they produce.”

GOAL Award

The site was awarded the 2016-17 Grazer Outstanding Achievement in Learning (GOAL) award, naming it the most outstanding special education school in the state. “As you can imagine,” Thorpe said, the award “has put us on the map. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked for tours; how many times this presentation’s gone on the road. It’s really given a lot of inspiration to other people, so I’m really proud of being a part of our program at Rising Sun.”

150th anniversary

The Easter Egg Hunt, coming up on April 4, will also celebrate the 150th anniversary of the facility, and Thorpe extended an invitation to the community to come out to see the site, to see “how wonderful it is, because this presentation doesn’t do justice to seeing all the kids out there working, and getting their hands dirty.” Rising Sun is on Facebook, she added.

“Wow,” Councilmember Cynthia Homen said following the presentation, “I actually am the mother of a special needs adult. I wish she was under 22, because she would have loved this. And I’m so happy to see something fulfilling a need that I think has been there for so long. You’re doing wonderful work.”

Councilmember Joshua Naranjo thanked DonBatalla and Thorpe “for going above and beyond for the community.”

Councilmember Dennis McCord said he knows “a couple of the gentlemen who are in the program. I know one of them is aging out right now, but they speak highly of what they do out there.”

Councilmember Dominic Farinha thanked the educators for “coming to our city council meeting…and sharing with us and the community such positive, necessary things are going on in your school, but also in the community at large… I think what you do is a good indication of positivity out there, and we appreciate that.”

“Keep up the great work, Mayor Novelli said.

Readers are invited to check out the school’s Facebook page. To purchase products, contact the school at 209 814-8865.

Stonegate Village Apartments affordable housing project

The city will issue bonds of $16 million on behalf of Self-Help Housing, to finance a 66-unit affordable apartment complex, which will be located at the northeast corner of Walnut Avenue and North First Street. The complex will include studios, one- and two-bedroom units, ranging from about 500 to 800 square feet.

There is a 21-month building schedule for the entire site, which includes 130 units. The site is anticipated to total 138 units; 23 residential buildings and a community building. Self-Help Enterprises will maintain ownership, and will employ a property management company to oversee the site once it’s completed.

The management company typically begins the recruitment process for such affordable housing units three months before the site is completed, Self-Help Enterprises Project Manager and Real Estate Developer Francisco Nunez said.

Unlike the affordable residential units expected to come online further down the road, those who live in the affordable apartments will not be involved in the construction of the units, Nunez said, due to the complexity of construction.

The city will have no liability or responsibility for the project or the repayment of the Bonds for the financing of the Project, City Manager Ken Irwin said, but will receive a portion of the issuance fees for the bonds, which the city is “free to use as it may be used for any lawful purpose of the City,” according to the staff report.

Rogers Road Delta Mendota Canal Bridge Rehabilitation Project

The Rogers Road Bridge over the Delta Mendota Canal, which was built in 1949, is slated to be upgraded. The project is in the early stages, and the council approved an increase in the Quincy Engineering contract from the original $430,136.79 to $550,000.

Funds for the project will come from a grant (Highway Bridge Program Funding) and the city’s Local Transportation Funding (LTF). LTF revenue comes from a quarter-cent sales tax established by the 1971 Transportation Development Act (TDA). The city receives the sales tax revenue generated within city limits, to fund road construction and maintenance.

Water revenue bonds

The city and the Patterson Public Financing Authority authorized the issuance of bonds to both finance and refinance improvements to the city’s water system. The move is expected to save the city money on interest, both by retiring a 2010 bond early, as well as taking advantage of current lower interest rates on the new bonds. The 2019A bonds will provide more than $9.5 million of new money for projects, while the 2019B bonds will redeem the outstanding 2010 bonds. The city expects to pay just over $910,000 in debt service per fiscal year from 2021 to 2049. The city anticipates a savings in interest fees of $2.1 million.

The funds to be raised will be used for replacement of existing pipelines and for upgrades to the water meter inventory and technology system along with other improvements to the city’s water system, according to the staff report.

According to the staff report, issuing the bonds will not create any burden to the city’s General Fund. Costs associated with the transaction will be recuperated by the sale of the 2019 bonds.

Councilmember Dominic Farinha said he is the glad the city is able to take advantage of current economic conditions.

Councilmember McCord said he supported the refinancing, and asked if there were any plans for the additional revenue to offset the recent utility rate increase. “It’s nice to be able to get this money,” he said, “my question is why are we getting this money.”

Director of Public Works Mike Willette responded that the funds would be used to replace aging infrastructure.

City Manager Ken Irwin explained that the Water Master Plan includes a prioritized list of upcoming projects. “That’s where this money will be going. Later, we will probably doing more bonds,” he added.

Homelessness update

Councilmember Homen, who attends the Stanislaus Homeless Alliance (SHA) on behalf of the city, said that group has been very busy. During a special meeting on Oct. 4, which the Irrigator also attended, Julia Orlando, Director of Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center, gave a presentation on how chronic homelessness in Bergen County, NJ has “virtually ended in her county,” Homen said, by addressing homelessness first, and then offering other resources.

Irwin said that the Cages are expected to be cleared very soon. Outreach has been ongoing, although few have accepted help. “Most of the men can go to H.O.S.T. House,” he said, adding that those involved are “still looking for space for the women.”

Naomi’s House update

“Volunteers and donations have been coming in coming in left and right,” Irwin said; the community is “really pulling together,” which he called “very heartwarming.” Site work is tentatively slated to begin in early December, he said, as well as getting the containers fabricated; “There’s a lot to it,” he said. The project is expected to take six to nine months to complete. “This council been very, very supportive,” of the project he said.

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