Latest proposal for high school boundary changes presented to Board of Education


The IUSD Board of Education engaged in a special study session this week to discuss proposed changes to the district’s high school attendance boundaries.

As we’ve reported previously, planning for Irvine’s fifth comprehensive high school necessitates a modest boundary reconfiguration in time for the campus’ projected opening in the fall of 2016. Though most IUSD families won’t be affected, changes could impact some Irvine students who are currently enrolled in kindergarten through the sixth grade, as well as currently enrolled kindergarten through seventh-grade students who live within the boundaries proposed for the fifth high school.

Back on March 4, Tony Ferruzzo, a facilities consultant and former IUSD principal, unveiled an initial recommendation for boundary changes made by the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee, which includes one principal, one teacher, one student and two parents from each of IUSD’s comprehensive high schools, along with district staff.

That recommendation generated discussion by the board and was later the subject of four parent forums. On Tuesday, May 27, Ferruzzo returned to board with a revised proposal based on the latest community input.

Board members are expected to take action on July 8, though any changes wouldn’t take effect until the 2016-17 school year. [Update: The board is not expected to take action on proposed boundary changes until Aug. 19 at the earliest.] In the meantime, a map of the current recommendation is posted below, and here are a few of our takeaways from Tuesday’s session:

  • Under the revised recommendation, students from Irvine’s Laguna Altura community would continue to send their children to University High School rather than the new high school campus. In addition, a non-contiguous portion of the Stone Creek Elementary School attendance area would remain in the Woodbridge High boundary, along with the rest of Stone Creek.
  • Current high school students and those who will start high school in the fall won’t be impacted either way. That’s because the youngest will already be in the 11th and 12th grades before any changes take effect. Again, even though the board is expected to take action on July 8, altered boundaries in Irvine wouldn’t take effect until August 2016 at the earliest.
  • IUSD is growing – and fast. Without a fifth comprehensive high school, moderate projections indicate Northwood High’s student population would swell to 3,140 by 2017. Irvine High would similarly expand to 2,946 students, University High would grow to 2,842 students and Woodbridge High would hit 2,488, which is still above the district’s maximum enrollment target for high schools.
  • There are essentially three enrollment options for opening the fifth high school. The district could require all ninth- and tenth-graders living within the school’s attendance area to enroll. Or it could start with just ninth-graders. Or it could require ninth-graders to enroll but give tenth-graders a choice. Each of these options has its pros and cons, but the Boundary Advisory Committee is recommending the first scenario — requiring freshmen and sophomores to attend — because that would ensure a viable enrollment and a comprehensive program for all students. The final decision will ultimately be made by the Board of Education.
  • Ferruzzo said the work of the Boundary Advisory Committee was based on an established criteria, along with guiding values. For example, in addition to creating a viable enrollment for the fifth high school, committee members sought to balance long-term student enrollment across all five high schools while doing their best to keep students from smaller communities together as they transition to middle and high school.

You can take a look at detailed slides from Tuesday night’s presentation by clicking here. And here’s a map of the current proposal. (Click to enlarge.)

Revised high school boundary proposal from May 27


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.”


Board of Education Study Session will focus on proposed high school boundary changes


Proposed changes to IUSD’s high school boundaries will be the subject of a special Board of Education Study Session on Tuesday, May 27.

The meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Board Room of the IUSD District Office, located at 5050 Barranca Parkway.

[Update on May 21:  It's just been announced that the meeting will also be broadcast on channel 39 for local Cox Communications subscribers and via AT&T U-verse’s government and public television menu.]

Board Study Session on May 27The Study Session agenda will include further analysis of potential high school boundary changes, as well as considerations for adjusting the most recent proposal based on community input — including feedback from a series of parent forums held in March and April.

As noted previously, the vast majority of IUSD students would not be impacted by the boundary changes under consideration. But planning for the district’s fifth comprehensive high school necessitates a modest reconfiguration that would affect some Irvine students who are currently enrolled in kindergarten through the sixth grade, as well as currently enrolled kindergarten through seventh-grade students who live within the proposed boundaries of the fifth high school.

An earlier staff-recommended proposal, illustrated in the maps below, was the subject of four public meetings held in March and April. While board members will not make a final determination on May 27, they will discuss possible adjustments and may provide additional direction to staff before voting in June or July. Either way, high school boundary changes would not take effect until August 2016.

A little more background

IUSD is currently proposing to open its fifth comprehensive high school by the fall of 2016 with just freshmen and sophomores, adding juniors in 2017 and seniors in 2018 as the inaugural classes advance. The campus will serve Irvine’s newer communities and prevent overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools.

In addition to needing its own attendance area, the new high school would necessitate boundary adjustments to ensure enrollment is balanced districtwide. (IUSD’s Board Policy calls for high schools of no more than 2,400 students when possible.)

The original recommendation for addressing both needs was drafted by the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee, which began meeting in October. That panel includes district staff, as well as one principal, one teacher, one student and two parents from each of IUSD’s comprehensive high schools.

At the March 4 Board of Education meeting, Tony Ferruzzo, a facilities consultant and former IUSD principal, discussed the proposed changes and delivered this presentation. The Boundary Advisory Committee then met again on April 28, and the Steering Committee met on May 16 to review possible changes to the proposal.

Again, below is a map showing the original high school boundary proposal from March. The revised proposal will be presented to the board for discussion at Tuesday’s Study Session.

IUSD's proposed high school boundaries IUSD's current high school boundaries


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.


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.


Planned site of IUSD’s fifth high school OK’d by Department of Toxic Substances Control


IUSD is another step closer to beginning construction on its fifth comprehensive high school after receiving word that the proposed site has been cleared for use by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Lloyd Linton, the district’s director of facilities planning and construction, shared the latest developments on high school No. 5 at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting. Holding a letter from the DTSC dated April 4, he said the agency has concurred with IUSD’s Preliminary Environmental Assessment in determining that the planned location for the campus near the northeast border of the Orange County Great Park meets the rigorous safety standards for school construction. The DTSC added that no further assessment is necessary.

IUSD needs to open its fifth high school by the fall of 2016 to accommodate new homes set to be built around the Great Park and to prevent overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. To meet that deadline, the district must secure all necessary state approvals, formally acquire the property from developer Heritage Fields and begin construction by June.

Because the DTSC is responsible for ensuring that communities are safe from contaminants, its stamp of approval is considered a significant milestone for school construction. Yet a number of additional steps remain before IUSD can break ground, and the timeline is extremely tight.

Linton said his staff has already submitted the DTSC letter to the California Department of Education, which must ultimately sign off on both the suitability of the site and the building plans. Those same plans also require a green-light from the Division of the State Architect, which looks closely at structural safety and accessibility.

The good news is that all remaining state approvals are expected within a week or two, according to Linton. Once that happens, and once the appraisal process is complete, IUSD and Heritage Fields can close escrow on the property. If all goes as planned, the Board of Education could be asked to approve an implementation agreement at its May 6 meeting, and school construction could begin in June.

In the meantime, IUSD continues to meet with Heritage Fields to coordinate next steps. Andreas Chialtas, who is serving as IUSD’s legal counsel, told the board that the developer and the district are in agreement on the timeline for transferring ownership of the property, and both sides are working together to ensure grading permits are in place from the City of Irvine and the state.

“The last few weeks we’ve had a number of very productive meetings in terms of how we would coordinate our grading with their grading, and how we might be able to start construction out there sometime in June,” Chialtas said.

Another update on the fifth high school will be presented at the board’s Facilities Study Session on April 22.

Also Tuesday:

  • Meeting an annual requirement of the California Education Code, the board approved the 2014-15 curriculum for grades seven through 12. The Course of Study, which is available online, contains a listing of course titles for each school by curricular area, along with codes to indicate new and deleted courses.
  • Following a public hearing, board members voted to adopt a joint proposal between IUSD and the California School Employees Association (CSEA), Chapter 517, to initiate the bargaining process. The action allows the district and its classified employees to address issues related to compensation and related benefits, as well as health and welfare benefits.

Board of Education discusses potential options for district’s fifth comprehensive high school


IUSD’s planned fifth comprehensive high school was once again the topic of an in-depth discussion at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.

Among the key takeaways this time around, staff members and planning consultants affirmed that the potential location known as Site A — owned by Heritage Fields, developer of the Great Park Neighborhoods, and situated near the northeast border of the Orange County Great Park — has undergone a rigorous environmental review and will likely be cleared by the Department of Toxic Substances Control in early April. Approval by the California Department of Education would presumably follow. By contrast, the alternate location known as Site B, which is on west side of the former El Toro base, could require extensive environmental mitigation.

IUSD has been working with Heritage Fields to carry out the terms of agreements that call for construction and operation of a fifth high school on property to be transferred from Heritage Fields to IUSD. The campus would serve students generated by the Great Park Neighborhoods and accommodate other enrollment growth within IUSD. Meanwhile, the agreements also call for kindergarten-through-eighth-grade facilities to be constructed to serve incoming Great Park Neighborhoods students.

But even with Site A emerging as the preferred option for the fifth high school project — if not the only viable option — there are no guarantees that IUSD can start construction in June of this year as planned.

Lloyd Linton, IUSD’s director of facilities planning and construction, outlined four construction schedule scenarios for the board based on when the district might officially acquire Site A. Under the first two, which are possible if the land is secured by either April 30 or August 15, the campus could be completed on time for its scheduled opening in the fall of 2016. Beyond that, the completion date would be pushed further into the 2016-17 school year.

While IUSD will continue to abide by the terms of the agreements with Heritage Fields, the board, on the motion of member Michael Parham, voted unanimously to create another possible scenario Tuesday night, directing staff to confer with the neighboring Saddleback Valley Unified School District to determine if it’s feasible to transfer land to that district. Such a scenario would not impact families currently living in IUSD.

“I look at this and I say, either we have a school that’s built immediately and ready to fill,” Parham said, “or we cede the land to Saddleback and let (students) go to another school.”

IUSD has indicated it must open its fifth comprehensive high school by fall 2016 to accommodate development from the Great Park Neighborhoods, as well as other developments, and to avoid crowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. With the planning process spanning several years, the district and its developer partners have agreements in place for the 40-acre Site A. Meanwhile, a member of the Irvine City Council has advocated for the alternative Site B, but that property has not been fully removed from the EPA’s Superfund list of hazardous sites.

A boundary change could eliminate the need to move further with either site by shifting the incoming residential development to the Saddleback Valley district. But that possibility is only a topic of discussion at this point, as the board’s vote merely directs staff members to open a dialog with their Saddleback Valley counterparts. Moreover, IUSD would still need to open a fifth high school eventually because more growth is anticipated. For that reason, the board also directed staff to explore land acquisition options with the Irvine Company.

While school districts generally hold a favorable view of enrollment growth, board member Parham expressed concern that new homes to the north might bring in more students than projected, and that could jeopardize the high school experience for the families IUSD has already been entrusted to serve.

“I’m not getting comfort that we’re going to have enough seats,” he said, “and I’m not getting comfort that (our current) middle school students aren’t going to get stuck in a very overcrowded high school.”

Board President Sharon Wallin agreed, noting that the district was also planning on building a K-8 school and perhaps another elementary school and middle school on the former site of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

“That’s a lot of schools in the area,” she said. “Look at how long it took to determine that (Site A) is a clean piece of land. Every single site, we’re going to be going through this because it’s all going to be on the base.”


IUSD to present information on proposed high school boundary changes at upcoming forums


The Irvine Unified School District will hold four upcoming parent forums to share information on proposed changes to the district’s high school attendance boundaries.

The sessions, which are open to families from any school, are scheduled from 7 to 8 p.m. and will take place on the following days (and at the following locations):

  • Wednesday, March 19 in the Woodbridge High School Staff Lounge
  • Monday, March 24 in the Irvine High School Theater
  • Wednesday, March 26 in the University High School Multi-Purpose Room
  • Tuesday, April 1 in the Northwood High School Media Center

As the maps below indicate, the vast majority of IUSD students would not be impacted by the recommended changes. But planning for the district’s fifth comprehensive high school requires a modest reconfiguration that may affect Irvine students who are currently enrolled in kindergarten through the sixth grade, as well as current seventh-graders who live inside the proposed boundary for the fifth high school.

IUSD is planning to open the new school by September 2016 with just freshmen and sophomores, though juniors will be added in 2017 and seniors in 2018 as the inaugural class advances. The campus, set to occupy one of two potential locations near the Orange County Great Park, will serve Irvine’s newer communities and alleviate crowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools.

Meanwhile, a new high school requires the formation of new attendance area, and boundary adjustments will be needed to ensure enrollment is balanced districtwide. The latter consideration is an important one, as IUSD’s Board Policy calls for high schools of no more than 2,400 students when possible. With the dramatic residential growth we’ve seen in Irvine, keeping high schools at this size has been an ongoing challenge.

Tony Ferruzzo, a facilities consultant and former IUSD principal, delivered this presentation on the proposed changes at the March 4 Board of Education meeting. The recommendations, he said, were drafted by the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee, which includes district staff, as well as one principal, one teacher, one student and two parents from each of IUSD’s comprehensive high schools. Ferruzzo said the panel has met regularly since October. After receiving public input, the school board is expected to vote on the proposals in June, though changes wouldn’t take effect until the fall of 2016.

Again, families can find out if they’re impacted by taking a look at the maps below — click on each one to enlarge — and they can learn more by attending one of the upcoming parent forums. Additional developments will be posted on the IUSD website and here on the IUSD NewsFlash.

IUSD's current high school boundaries

IUSD's proposed high school boundaries


EPA removal of 1,900 acres from Superfund list includes proposed site of next IUSD high school


Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced this week that more than 1,900 acres of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station — including the planned location for IUSD’s next high school — have been removed from the agency’s list of Superfund sites.

EPA removes nearly 2,000 acres of El Toro site from Superfund listThe move essentially means a vast expanse of the one-time base has been OK’d for use, clearing the way for new development.

Before removing the acreage from its National Priorities List of Superfund sites, the EPA determined that all environmental impacts were thoroughly investigated and that appropriate cleanup actions were taken to protect human health and the environment. Other than periodic reviews, no further steps are necessary, the agency said.

As Superintendent Terry Walker noted in a recent letter to the community, the Irvine Unified School District must open its fifth comprehensive high school by September 2016 to prevent overcrowding at its other high school sites, and the planning process has spanned several years. The district and its developer partners have agreements in place for a 40-acre parcel known as Site A, which sits near the northeast border of the Great Park and is among the nearly 2,000 acres delisted by the EPA. That property still must meet a number of other rigorous guidelines established for school construction, including reviews by the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Meanwhile, a member of the Irvine City Council has advocated for an alternative location on the west side of the Great Park – it’s often referred to as Site B — which would have to be purchased from the City for a minimum of $60 million. Though both sites are being evaluated, a preliminary analysis has not revealed any significant advantage to swapping parcels, and only part of Site B has been removed from the EPA’s Superfund list.

For more information on El Toro and the Superfund program, click here.


Superintendent: Preliminary analysis of potential high school sites does not favor Site B


In a letter emailed to families last week, IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker offered the latest on the district’s efforts to evaluate two potential sites for Irvine’s next comprehensive high school.

Here’s the full text in case you missed it.

Dear IUSD community member:

Our district has a long history of thoughtful and strategic planning, resulting in schools of the highest quality. By law and by practice, our staff and our contractors strive to provide optimal learning environments that maximize the investments made by local taxpayers.

As you may have heard during one of our recent Board of Education meetings, there has been an extensive amount of work involved in studying two potential sites for our next comprehensive high school. This letter is being sent to bring you up to speed and to clarify some of the facts.

For those who aren’t familiar with our facilities planning efforts, our district, which has experienced rapid growth as a result of recent development, is working to open a new campus in September 2016 to avert overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. Plans have been underway for several years now, and IUSD and its developer partners have agreements 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 has advocated for an alternative location, 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, and the motion approved by the City set a minimum purchase price of $60 million.

IUSD has directed significant resources to ensure thorough reviews of both sites, and though this process is ongoing, our preliminary analysis has not revealed any significant advantage to moving the campus to Site B. Our district is not alone in this assessment. The California Department of Education has deemed both locations suitable to accommodate an Irvine-quality comprehensive high school, and the Irvine Unified Council PTA recently completed a report endorsing Site A after engaging in its own thorough analysis, examining such factors as safety, traffic and timing. In fact, initial site reviews indicate potentially greater concerns, costs and possible mitigation needs for Site B. More on that in a moment.

Suffice to say, absent clear and compelling advantages to changing the location of our fifth high school, it would be irresponsible for our district to switch sites, particularly as this action would result in a project delay of at least a year, triggering acute overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools and generating an estimated $20 million in additional costs. Our district will therefore continue to move forward with Site A, but our analysis of Site B will also continue, ensuring no stone is left unturned. Naturally, we will work closely with all required state agencies, including the Department of Toxic Substance Control, to ensure our schools meet or exceed the clear and rigorous guidelines established for school construction.

We recognize that all of our stakeholders want the absolute best location for Irvine’s next high school, and in recent meetings there has been some discussion of environmental issues and the Orange County Great Park’s proximity to the James A. Musick Facility. I want to assure you that these features have been thoughtfully researched with the help of a number of building and safety experts, and what we’ve learned so far bolsters the case for Site A.

For example, Site B has been identified under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) as a Hazardous Material site due to the significant amount of historic military activity, including being 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 does not have this RCRA designation and was primarily used for agriculture. A capped landfill is located north of Site A, containing primarily construction debris and ash. Mitigation measures were taken by the U.S. Navy, and periodic testing ensures the integrity of the cap.

Some proponents of Site B have noted that Site A is closer to the James A. Musick Facility, noting that the minimum-security jail has been slated for expansion. Yet crime statistics and multiple studies do not support the position that jails increase crime or have any impact on neighboring school sites. In addition, the facility would be housing the same levels of low-threat inmates with significantly enhanced security compared to what exists today. In a letter dated Sept. 24, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens wrote that remarks made during a September City Council meeting “gave a distorted impression of the future plans for the facility.” Sheriff Hutchens added that the “nature of the Musick population will not change due to new construction.” Robert Beaver, director of research and development for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed a binding memorandum of understanding with the City of Lake Forest that effectively limits the size of the facility to 3,100 beds and prohibits the detention of maximum-security inmates. He also clarified at a recent school board meeting that Musick’s dormitory-style design would not be a feasible model for housing the county’s high-threat inmates, adding that the Sheriff’s Department has more than adequate maximum-security space in other facilities to house these kinds of inmates.

It is also important to note that this area of the city is in the initial stages of development and will soon become a thriving residential community, with thousands of new homes. This is one of the reasons a high school campus must be in place — to meet the needs of this new community. The continued master-planned development of these neighborhoods and the City’s approval of these plans are further evidence of our shared confidence in the safety and viability of this location.

I would add that regardless of where our next high school is built, we will work closely with the Irvine Police Department and other agencies to ensure the new facility has state-of-the-art safety and security systems, including high-tech surveillance. As with our existing middle and high schools, it will also benefit from the presence of on-site district and police personnel.

Building a new high school is a project of monumental importance, and our district will settle for nothing short of an optimal environment for academics, athletics and co-curricular activities. If, after our exhaustive analysis, there is a valid justification for moving the location and delaying construction, our Board of Education will make that call. Conversely, if there is no clear evidence that Site B is a more advantageous location, it would not be prudent to arbitrarily pursue a course that would delay the project, cause significant overcrowding at our existing sites, adversely impact thousands of Irvine students and needlessly waste tens of millions of dollars.

I don’t have to tell you that Irvine is a special place, and it is so because community members like you take an active role as citizens and stakeholders. Above all, our No. 1 obligation as a school district is to do what is best for the students of Irvine, and I know that you share this objective. I appreciate that there are many dynamic facets to this discussion and would encourage you to review the related stories on the IUSD NewsFlash.

As always, thank you for all that you do to support education in Irvine.

Terry L. Walker
Superintendent of Schools