California Department of Education approves planned site of IUSD’s fifth high school

IUSD has reached a major milestone in its efforts to build a fifth comprehensive high school in time for the start of the 2016-17 school year.

In a letter dated April 15, the California Department of Education formally approved the 40.3-acre site slated for the new campus near the northeast border of the Great Park. The notice arrived just 11 days after the state Department of Toxic Substances Control similarly affirmed that the site meets the rigorous standards for school construction.

The district is now in the final stages of taking ownership of the land from Heritage Fields, developer of the Great Park Neighborhoods. Specifically, both sides are working together on an implementation agreement that would essentially bundle the details of the transaction.

“Though a number of critical steps remain, the letter of approval from the California Department of Education represents the culmination of our due diligence efforts and moves us another step closer to beginning construction,” Superintendent Terry Walker said this week.

“As we’ve seen, the process of securing property for a comprehensive high school can be lengthy and require great diligence on the part of staff and our community partners,” Walker said. “But this will no doubt prove to be a very worthy undertaking, as the end result will be a state-of-the-art high school that will serve as a source of community pride for generations.”

Once finalized, the implementation agreement between the district and Heritage Fields will be subject to a vote by IUSD’s Board of Education, and that could happen as early as May 6. The property must then go through an appraisal process, and grading permits would need to be obtained from both the City of Irvine and the state.

Assuming all of these boxes are checked in the weeks ahead, construction could begin in June.

Enrollment projections indicate IUSD will need to open its fifth high school by the fall of 2016 to accommodate new homes that will be built around the Great Park — and to prevent overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. IUSD has been working to maintain that timeline since the district and its developer partners initially agreed on the site adjacent to Irvine Boulevard back in July 2011.

The latest letter from the CDE not only validates the site selected by the district and its partners — it means a 2016 opening remains a very real possibility.