Safety, cost and programmatic impacts are weighed in fifth high school discussion

The location of IUSD’s fifth high school was again the central topic during the Board of Education’s most recent Facilities Study Session.

For those who haven’t been following this issue, IUSD needs to open a new campus in September 2016 to prevent overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. The district and its developer partners already have an agreement in place for a 40-acre site near the northeast border of the Great Park, often referred to as Site A. Meanwhile, a member of the Irvine City Council is advocating for an alternative 40-acre parcel, and in September the Council voted to present it for the district’s consideration. The second site, on the west side of the Great Park, is known as Site B.

IUSD is now conducting separate site reviews for each property, and on Wednesday, Nov. 6 board members and district staff discussed safety, traffic, design, adjacencies, joint-use possibilities, program impacts and funding during a detailed four-hour session. Here are a few highlights:

Environmental Issues

A historical review of both locations indicates there was a significant amount of military activity on the alternative Site B. The property was formerly home to two dozen underground storage tanks, at least 12 buildings, officer quarters, a mess hall and field storage, as well as an aircraft expeditionary refueling site and petroleum storage. There are also two groundwater plumes nearby.

By contrast, Site A was primarily used for agriculture. However, a capped landfill is located north of Site A, across Desert Storm Road. Mitigation measures were taken, and periodic reviews are required to ensure the integrity of the cap.

Proximity to Musick Jail

Proponents of Site B have questioned Site A’s proximity to the James A. Musick Facility, noting that the minimum-security jail along Alton Parkway has been slated for expansion. However, crime statistics and multiple studies do not support the position that jails increase crime in the area.

Robert Beaver, director of research and development for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, offered an overview of the Musick facility’s history and expansion plans. Though the jail has secured permission to grow to 7,584 beds, he said, a memorandum of understanding with the City of Lake Forest limits the size to 3,100 beds and prohibits the detention of maximum-security inmates.

Proximity to the Great Park

As we mentioned earlier, Site B would occupy 40 acres on the west side of the Great Park. Though some have expressed concerns over the potential for increased crime near a large, regional park, district officials said there is limited research for that type of attraction. Irvine Police Chief Dave Maggard said his agency would be responsible for policing the Great Park and would work to keep IUSD’s next high school safe, regardless of its location.

Implications of changing sites

IUSD has repeatedly stressed the need to open its next comprehensive high school in September 2016 to avoid overcrowding at its existing campuses. On Wednesday, facilities staff told the Board of Education that a switch to Site B at this stage in the planning process would push the opening back to 2017 at the earliest. Changing locations would also increase the cost of the project by an estimated $20 million.

Included in that figure is the cost of housing additional students at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools for at least a year. Cassie Parham, assistant superintendent of education services, said she fears that congested campuses might compromise the high school experience for an entire cohort of students.

The programmatic impacts

Per Board Policy, the targeted average school enrollment for IUSD’s high school is 2,200 students, but that policy was temporarily suspended in 2006 to allow for as many as 2,600 students. Without a fifth high school in place by 2016, projections indicate that Irvine High’s student population would grow to 2,556, Northwood High would expand to 2,932 students, University would have to accommodate 2,867 students and Woodbridge High’s student population would swell to 2,674.

Parham said schools of this size, coupled with the limitations of current facilities, will make it harder for students to participate in co-curricular activities, including music and the arts. Irvine, she said, is unique in that 70 percent of its students are currently enrolled in at least one visual or performing arts course.

Site adjacencies

Site A would be bordered by Irvine Boulevard to the north and new residential development to the east and south. City and federal property to the west would include Agua Chinon, a drainage and natural habitat mitigation area.

Site B would be bordered by residential development to the north. The Orange County Great Park would be on the east and south sides of the campus, and Irvine Company property to the west is currently zoned for residential and nonresidential uses.