IUSD Board of Education approves location of district’s fifth comprehensive high school

A rendering shows the performing arts center that will be part of IUSD's fifth comprehensive high school.

At last it can be said: Barring delays, the Irvine Unified School District will open a brand new state-of-the-art high school near the northeast border of the Orange County Great Park in 2016.

The IUSD Board of Education on Tuesday night passed a long-awaited resolution selecting the site of the district’s fifth comprehensive high school and allowing ownership of the property to be transferred from developer Heritage Fields to IUSD.

The 4-0 vote capped nearly three years of due diligence that recently led to site approval from the California Department of Education and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control for what has been commonly referred to as Site A. Escrow is now on track to close by May 29, and construction could begin next month.

“Getting this done is a big deal,” board member Michael Parham said, “and I think it’s time to celebrate that fact and to move forward, because it’s really a transformational time for this district.”

“It’s going to be an awesome school,” Parham added. “In my opinion, it’s going to be one of the best high schools in the country.”

School board President Sharon Wallin lauded her colleagues on the board for going “above and beyond” in their questioning and analysis to ensure the property meets the strict standards for an Irvine-quality school.

“I’m very excited,” she said, “but I’m mostly excited for those students.”

In 2011, IUSD and its developer partners initially agreed on the 40.2-acre site adjacent to Irvine Boulevard and west of Alton Parkway. Though the district also considered an alternative location on the west side of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro based on a request by the City, that property – generally referred to as Site B – has not been fully removed from the EPA’s Superfund list of hazardous sites and could require extensive environmental mitigation.

Site A, by contrast, has been through an exhaustive evaluation and testing processes and has been fully reviewed and approved by regulatory agencies throughout the state. The Irvine Unified Council PTA also produced a report in December endorsing the location over Site B after examining such factors as safety, traffic and timing.

Speaking of which, timing remains critical for the development of IUSD’s next high school. Projections indicate the district needs to open the new campus by the start of the 2016-17 school year to accommodate thousands of new homes while preventing overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools.

Before Tuesday night’s vote, attorney Andreas Chialtas of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo clarified that the resolution before the board was composed of several components, including selecting the site, ending the district’s review of Site B and approving an Implementation Agreement with Heritage Fields.

Chialtas said that Implementation Agreement clarifies the project schedule, grading information, the site plan and timing issues while allowing for the close of escrow. It also documents the value of the land, which was recently appraised at $127.4 million. While IUSD doesn’t pay that cost, the district will turn over to Heritage Fields its share of any state funding received pursuant to a contractual formula between IUSD and its development partners.

The evening wrapped up with a unanimous roll call vote, but not before additional environmental questions from board member Paul Bokota and a few words of praise for those who have gotten the project to this point.

Board member Lauren Brooks thanked the public for raising important issues “and asking the questions that we could research and really vet.”

“I’m really excited for our students, our future students, our current students, and what the future is going to bring for us,” Brooks said. “And I think we’re really going to have a fabulous high school to look forward to.”