IUSD completes long-range facilities plan to guide future construction and modernization

Capping a year’s worth of meticulous planning with input from hundreds of local stakeholders, IUSD has completed a long-term “facilities roadmap” that will help guide construction and modernization decisions over the next 10 to 20 years.

IUSD’s comprehensive Facilities Master Plan was designed to align ongoing building plans with the district’s overall educational vision and commitment to continuous improvement. The final draft of the document, which was reviewed and accepted by the Board of Education at its June 5 meeting, features educational specifications to guide the design of new schools, a thorough analysis of current sites for proposed enhancements, projected costs and potential sources of revenue.

“Diligent facilities planning has always been a critical component of the success of the Irvine Unified School District, and this Facilities Master Plan will help ensure that we continue to produce 21st century campuses that support our educational objectives and the learning needs of our students,” said Michael Parham, president of IUSD’s Board of Education.

At the same time, Parham noted that the board will be responsible for green-lighting specific projects.

“It is important to view this as a living document, one that can evolve with our district and really serve as the basis for thoughtful decision-making,” Parham said. “Future boards will consider each project and expenditure on a case-by-case basis, and are not required to follow this plan, particularly if more economically feasible or educationally viable options arise. But this plan is a good starting point of where we are headed, given what we know today.”

More comprehensive approach

Facilities Master Plans aren’t exactly a new concept in Irvine. In fact, IUSD last approved one in 2001, and that document outlined a number of recommended campus improvements and modernization projects that have since been completed. The 2012 version, however, is considered a much more comprehensive undertaking and is specifically tied to new educational specifications. More on those in a moment.

In drafting the new plan, staff members from the district’s Facilities Planning and Education Services departments worked closely with architects from Irvine-based LPA Inc. and solicited input from more than 750 local stakeholders. One of the early goals was to learn what staff, parents, students and community members desired most in their schools. A handful of central themes emerged, including flexibility, collaboration, school culture, enrichment and technology.

In November, the board approved the first piece of the plan, signing off on a series of staff-recommended educational specifications for elementary schools, middle schools and K-8 campuses, as well as a set of guiding principles. Educational specifications, or ed specs, are a state requirement, describing the various instructional activities that will be housed within a school and detailing the spatial relationships and special features that will be needed to support those activities.

Board members approved ed specs for the high schools in February, and they were tasked with reviewing the final draft of the Facilities Master Plan on June 5. After a presentation and discussion, the board voted unanimously to accept the plan and thanked the many staff members and volunteers who contributed to the project.

“This document represents a tremendous undertaking on the part of staff and some very dedicated volunteers, and their time was well spent,” IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker said afterward. “From the beginning, we felt it was important to take a thoughtful and inclusive approach to ensure this plan and, in turn, our facilities reflect the values of our community.”

Exploring available funding

Of course, aspiring to world-class schools is one thing. Paying for them is another matter altogether.

The new Facilities Master Plan outlines nearly $600 million worth of long-term program costs to modernize and enhance existing sites. That’s a significant price tag for any span, yet the document also identifies a number of potential funding sources, including revenue from the sale of surplus property, special taxes collected in areas known as Community Facilities Districts – these are established in conjunction with developers as new neighborhoods come online – and state matching funds.

Indeed, even as California’s budget crisis has choked off tens of millions in operational funds, IUSD still has access to some revenue for its more pressing building projects. And as board member Sharon Wallin pointed out, the state Education Code requires that these dollars be spent on capital needs, meaning they cannot be used to pay for instructional salaries or general operating expenses.

Like any revenue stream, however, building dollars are limited, and that means the district will have to plan carefully to get the most bang for its buck.

“Meticulous planning is a part of the culture of our district,” Superintendent Walker said. “Our founders and the leaders who followed went to great lengths to make sure that today’s students had access to top-tier educational facilities. It is incumbent upon us to make sure we do the same for future generations of Irvine students.”