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PLEASANTON — Dignitaries wielded gold-colored shovels for the groundbreaking for a shade structure at Amador High School.

The July 14 event almost did not happen, because the $225,000 to build the shaded area failed to get approval as part of Measure M, which Pleasanton voters defeated last year. But a new group in town — We Are Pleasanton — rode to the rescue with fundraising. Members assessed the cost, took their cause to the public as a single, specific project, and rallied a tremendous number of people to finance the project.

Todd Utikal, who owns the Side-Track Bar + Grill in Pleasanton, organized the group.

“I know how to put people in a room,” Utikal said.

He succeeded in rounding up 40 community members to serve as a board of directors for We Are Pleasanton.

Utikal saw that lumping many projects together for one big sum was the reason voters rejected Measure M. Focusing on one specific project at a time, so people could see tangible results, was key, he said.

Utikal shared his knowledge with Steve McCoy-Thompson of Pleasanton Partners in Education (PPIE) and won sponsorship. PPIE agreed to let its donors earmark money for We Are Pleasanton.

Projected cost for the shade structure was $225,000. Utikal went to the leadership class at Amador, taught by Sarah Marek. Together, they set a goal of raising $27,500 for the cause. Marek suggested that other groups match the funds.

Utikal secured promises for matching from City Manager Nelson Fialho for a city donation, another from Pleasanton Unified School District Superintendent David Haglund, and a fourth from the Walker Family trust in Pleasanton. The pledges added up to $110,000. Individual donors made up the remainder.

“People would throw in $5,000, then $1,000,” said Utikal. “From October last year to this January, the $228,000 was raised.”

The shade structure won’t open until 2023, when permits are obtained, but it will play an important role in protecting students from harmful ultraviolet rays.

Haglund was very appreciative of the group’s work.

“This We Are Pleasanton effort exemplifies one of the things I admire most about our community — the generosity of the residents and businesses, and the way we find ways to step up for students together,” Haglund said. “The Amador students and families will benefit from this generous gift for generations. I am so grateful for the community’s support of our students."

We Are Pleasanton members will now focus on their next project — converting the fields at Pleasanton Middle School from grass to turf. It’s an expensive change, estimated to cost $4 million; dirt must be removed from the site, and the turf requires a special base. When it is finished, the new fields will accommodate a variety of sports, including cricket, field and track, rugby and baseball.