IUSD Board of Education discusses district’s fifth high school and proposed alternative site

This week, the IUSD Board of Education engaged in a marathon discussion over the district’s fifth comprehensive high school and a possible alternative location.

No action was taken by board members on Tuesday night, but over the course of several hours district staff and consultants delivered a detailed presentation that covered the pros and cons associated with both sites, as well as IUSD’s mitigation agreements with developers, the state’s process for site approval, joint-use possibilities with the City of Irvine, timing and the financial implications of switching locations.

With residential development on the rise, IUSD has repeatedly articulated the need to open a fifth comprehensive high school in the fall of 2016 to prevent significant overcrowding at its other high school campuses. To that end, the district and its partnering developers have agreements in place for a 40-acre chunk of property near the northeast border of the Orange County Great Park, generally referred to as Site A.

But a member of the Irvine City Council has proposed an alternative parcel for the school, and on Sept. 10 the City Council voted to offer 40 acres of city-owned land on the west side of the Great Park, known as Site B, for the district’s consideration.

IUSD is now reviewing both sites. But, as was shared on Tuesday, it’s far more complicated than simply deciding between two locations. For starters, there are complex legal agreements in place with multiple developers, and the review process for Site B is just beginning, making it highly unlikely that a campus could open at that location in 2016. There are also significant costs associated with changing sites, including hefty state fees and the price of temporarily housing an influx of high school students elsewhere if the project is delayed a year or two.

The bottom line is that any location is bound to have its pluses and minuses. While proponents of Site B have noted that Site A is slated to be part of a residential development that is closer to the minimum-security James A. Musick Facility, there is no evidence to suggest that facility poses an increased safety threat. Meanwhile, there are safety concerns and questions that need to be answered as part of the evaluation process for Site B, which would be located in a more heavily trafficked area of the Orange County Great Park.

“We know what Site A is,” board member Sharon Wallin said. “So do you take Site A, or do you take what’s behind the door? … At this point I don’t know that it’s been unveiled.”

Needless to say, state and federal agencies have high standards for building new schools, and IUSD’s school board members expressed their commitment to putting students first. IUSD will continue vetting both sites on concurrent tracks, leading up to complete site reviews by the California Department of Education.