Board delays fifth high school vote as work continues on implementation agreement

The IUSD Board of Education was scheduled to vote Tuesday on a resolution that would have formally selected a site for the district’s next high school and allowed ownership of the property to be transferred from developer Heritage Fields.

gavelBut because the final implementation agreement between IUSD and Heritage Fields wasn’t yet completed, the resolution was continued to the board’s next meeting on May 20.

Enrollment projections indicate IUSD will need to open a fifth comprehensive high school by the fall of 2016 to accommodate thousands of new homes slated to be built around the Great Park and to prevent overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. To that end, the district and its developer partners agreed on a 40-acre site near the northeast border of the Great Park in July 2011, and IUSD has since been pursuing a rigorous due diligence process to ensure the land is suited for a high school campus.

Those efforts culminated with an April 15 letter from the California Department of Education, which formally approved the property adjacent to Irvine Boulevard. Eleven days earlier, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control similarly declared that the site meets California’s strict environmental standards for school construction.

Nevertheless, a small group of residents has questioned the district’s choice, mainly citing its adjacency to a capped landfill that once served the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Some spoke publicly Tuesday night, and board members continued to pose a number of detailed questions for IUSD’s environmental consultants and staff.

In response, Dr. Denise Clendening, an associate principal for PlaceWorks, reaffirmed that the state’s standards for school construction are much higher than for other property uses. She added that the nearby landfill, which would be at a lower elevation than the high school, was capped using scientifically-engineered remedies. Subsequent tests and long-term monitoring have consistently demonstrated that the remediation steps were successful, ensuring a safe environment for the high school site and the thousands of new homes surrounding it that have already been approved for construction by the City of Irvine.

Clendening told the board that her firm collected more than 100 soil samples and more than 40 soil gas samples from Site A during its evaluation.

“It was a long-term process … and not only did PlaceWorks make the determination that that there is no significant levels of chemicals of concern at the site, but the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has agreed, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, Department of Public Health and CalRecycle, which used to be the Integrated Waste Management Board,” she said. “So it’s not one organization making that (determination), but it’s a group of scientific experts who have evaluated the site.”

Assuming the implementation agreement is completed and approved later this month, construction on the new campus could begin in June.