The Irvine Unified School District is on the verge of a significant growth spurt.
Over the next decade, the district is expected to swell from 27,000 students to as many as 39,000, representing a 44 percent spike in enrollment. Much of the growth will come from new neighborhoods to the north, including Irvine Company developments as well as those near the Orange County Great Park, where officials recently announced the first phase of residential construction.
Accommodating the influx of new students isn’t the only task facing the IUSD’s facilities team in 2011. According to Lisa Howell, assistant superintendent of Business Services, there are dozens of projects in various stages of planning and construction, along with scores of additional facilities needs on the horizon. Each represents one piece of a larger district puzzle that continues to expand and evolve.
On the upside, IUSD has a pretty good track record in the construction arena, completing project after project on time and under budget. And despite California’s devastating budget crisis, there is still funding available for most of the district’s plans. (Remember that the state does not allow construction dollars to be merged with operational revenue.)
All of IUSD’s foreseeable capital needs will be detailed in the latest Facilities Master Plan, coming soon to a giant binder near you. As the Business Services department rolls up its sleeves to take on the Herculean task of updating this report, we thought we’d offer a sneak preview of the areas and projects that could reshape our district.
SCHOOLS FOR THE GREAT PARK
As many as 30,000 new homes are ultimately expected to sprout up in the city’s Northern Sphere, and while most will be generated by the Irvine Company, the figure also includes homes adjacent to the City-owned Orange County Great Park, billed as “the first great metropolitan park of the 21st Century.”
In January, FivePoint Communities held a joint news conference with officials from the City of Irvine to announce the first phase of residential development, which will bring 5,000 new homes to the former El Toro Marine base. CEO Emile Haddad said his company expects residents to move in by 2013.
Accommodating new communities is nothing new for IUSD. But the district has traditionally partnered with the Irvine Company to establish special funding mechanisms that enabled the construction of new schools before homeowners arrived. Though IUSD has yet to reach a similar mitigation agreement with FivePoint for the Great Park area, district officials have expressed confidence they’ll be able to work with the developer to ensure Irvine-quality schools.
THE STADIUM AT UNI
Following a recent legal settlement, IUSD is moving forward with a highly-anticipated second district stadium at University High School.
The proposed 2,940-seat venue, which would serve as the home field for University and Woodbridge high schools, will have bleachers, elevated field lighting, a public address system, a scoreboard and other amenities, including restrooms and a ticket booth. Expected to be completed by 2013, this project will finally reduce the need for Thursday night football games, which are fairly common with only one home stadium – it’s at Irvine High – to serve four high schools.
Plans for the new stadium are in the process of being finalized, and the district’s facilities reserves have been identified as a potential funding source. Those reserves are expected to be bolstered by the imminent sale of surplus properties.
THE SALE OF SURPLUS PROPERTIES
Supporting the recommendation of a committee that included community members, business leaders and staff, the Board of Education approved the sale of two surplus properties – IUSD’s Alderwood school and the original Vista Verde campus – to William Lyon Homes in February 2009. Both sites are now in escrow, with the district negotiating a price of more than $29 million.
It may seem counterintuitive to sell properties as Irvine continues to grow, but IUSD staff and its facilities advisory committee diligently analyzed enrollment trends, population projections and long-term generation rates before considering the sale. Moreover, the district has been transitioning away from older, smaller campuses in favor of newer, larger sites that are more cost-effective and energy-efficient.
Howell also noted that revenue from property sales helps IUSD fund the high-quality schools and facilities to which Irvine families have grown accustomed.
“We don’t get money from the state for infrastructure improvements, for food services facilities, for stadiums and for pools,” Howell said. “So it begs the question, ‘Where does that money come from?’ It’s coming from property sales.”
CREEKSIDE EDUCATION CENTER
Board members and district staff are continuing to analyze options for the large patch of vacant land at Harvard Avenue and Barranca Parkway, where the Creekside Education Center is located.
Originally the property of the U.S. Navy, this site was deeded to IUSD by the U.S. Department of Education in 2003. The Creekside campus, as well as other district offices, currently occupy about eight acres, but that still leaves another 12 acres of open space.
Unfortunately, IUSD has yet to find an eligible source of revenue to pay for new construction at Harvard and Barranca, though staff is leaving no stone unturned as options for the property are discussed. Those options include ball fields, a much needed Nutrition Services facility, a staff training center and possibly an elementary school if local enrollment swells beyond projections.
THE IRVINE BUSINESS COMPLEX
Not too far from John Wayne Airport you’ll find a blend of commercial, residential and office space that is benefiting from new investment and redevelopment dollars. It’s called the Irvine Business Complex, and it straddles portions of the Irvine, Santa Ana and Tustin unified school districts.
High-rise homes associated with mixed-use projects don’t traditionally generate a significant number of school-age kids, and based on similar developments IUSD is only projecting about 200 new students. But district officials are keeping a close eye on the IBC and holding regular meetings with the City because nearby Irvine schools are already approaching capacity.
MODERNIZATION AND EXPANSION
Meanwhile, crews recently completed modernization jobs at Sierra Vista Middle School, along with classroom expansion projects at Oak Creek, Canyon View, Brywood and Turtle Rock elementary schools and Plaza Vista School. The facilities team is now determining which schools are eligible for the next round of state modernization funding.
Not many cities in Orange County can claim they’re still growing, but Irvine continues to expand with new development to the north, and that means board members and administrators are constantly in planning mode.
The next campus to open its doors will be a middle school in what’s called “Planning Area 40,” near the intersection of Jeffrey and Trabuco roads. IUSD worked closely with the Irvine Company to establish funding for the project, and the district was able to secure an additional $9 million from the state by meeting a number of early construction deadlines. As a result of those early deadlines, the school-to-be-named-later is on pace to be completed well before it’s needed to accommodate new students in 2013.
Other schools in the planning stages include Portola Springs Elementary School and an additional elementary campus for Planning Area 40.
Finally, we’d be remiss in not mentioning the district’s efforts to establish energy-generating solar panels at 16 sites.
As mentioned in previous posts, the silent, renewable systems are expected to save IUSD approximately $8 million in energy expenses over 20 years based on conservative estimates, and they’re not costing the district a cent to build or maintain.
Under the terms of deal with SunEdison and SPG Solar, IUSD’s corporate partners will finance, build, operate and maintain the systems, enabling those companies to take advantage of tax credits that public agencies can’t leverage. In turn, IUSD will purchase energy at a reduced rate that is predictable long-term. Local schools will also be able to monitor their own energy production as part of a new curricular component.