Marianna Mapes, senior

Drab, yellow and lonely, the abandoned house next to Maria Carrillo High School isn’t the most welcoming sight. With its boarded-up front windows, it looks as though it has a few secrets. And its biggest secret happens to be its best-kept one: The house is part of the MCHS campus and owned by Santa Rosa City Schools.

Located at 1023 Calistoga Road, adjacent to the school’s athletic fields beyond the N building, the Craftsman-style house is a stark architectural contrast to the relatively modern MCHS grounds. It sits on a parcel acquired by SRCS in 1965, but has remained vacant since the most recent tenants moved out 10 years ago.

“A lot of kids used to go over there and hang out,” said MCHS Assistant Principal Randy Burbank. “There have been several fights there with students during school hours.”

Though there have been few incidents, the school keeps a close eye on the property.

“I go over there at least once or twice a week to check it out and see if there’s anybody there,” said Paul Messerschmitt, MCHS’s campus police officer.

“If there are transients or people squatting there, we just ask them to move along,” said Burbank, who often accompanies Messerschmitt on his weekly patrol of the property.

But despite its neglected and unkempt appearance, the house is attracting attention as more than just a temporary haven for vagrants.

“Several outside groups have expressed interest in developing the property,” said Jennie Bruneman, SRCS Director of Facilities, Maintenance and Operations.

The only formal proposal submitted to the district was a 2009 plan to transform the abandoned property into an eco-friendly model home, dubbed the HOW-e Green Idea House, designed to showcase energy-efficient technologies and sustainable building practices.

“We were looking for a way to involve the students in the project, having them do the retrofitting and using it as a service learning opportunity,” said Rebecca Valentine, a green building consultant and HOW-e project coordinator. “But we are no longer pursuing it at this time. There were several issues with asbestos and lead paint on the site that we would be responsible for remediating, and we didn’t have the funding capacity.”

The HOW-e team had also planned to use the house as an interactive educational tool, offering tours of the site to students and giving them an up-close and personal look at careers in environmentally-conscious development.

“It’s an interesting property with a lot of potential,” said Valentine. “It’s right on a busy street, and it’s close to a school, a park and a public library. It’s near the hub of a community that would draw people to check it out.

“I wonder, ‘How would it be to deal with the outside area instead of the interior?’” said Valentine. “There’s a patio area and a brick oven in the side yard. It could be used for outdoor classes or gardening and food production.”

But with no current plan for development, the abandoned property remains a developer’s diamond in the rough.

Rehabilitating the house “probably hasn’t been a priority,” surmised Messerschmitt.

“I think the district is still trying to figure out what to do with it,” said Burbank. “Three years ago would have been a great time to sell it, but with the market the way it is now, I don’t see that happening.

“I think you have to ask the question, ‘Is Maria Carrillo going to be expanding?’” he said. “And if so, they might want to hang onto it just in case.”