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


Board approves supplemental EIR for high school site, but that doesn’t rule out proposed alternative site

Along with its action on the technology plan, the Board of Education on Nov. 12 approved a resolution certifying a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report for one of two potential sites for the fifth high school.

This document, which spells out the environmental impacts and potential mitigation measures for proposed construction projects, is required under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

Included in the resolution were approvals for the project as well as a mitigation monitoring and reporting program, but that doesn’t mean the board has ruled out the alternative location known as Site B. Faced with an urgent need to open its next comprehensive high school by September 2016, district leaders have made it clear they intend to move forward with the 40 acres initially designated for the campus — this property is known as Site A — while also embarking on a parallel review path for Site B.

The Orange County Register has more on the board’s vote here. (Subscription required)

IUSD in the News: Timing and cost considerations are part of fifth high school discussion

The Irvine World News had a nice piece on Tuesday about IUSD’s plans for a fifth comprehensive high school, the two locations currently being considered and some of the timing and cost considerations. The story, written by reporter Jordan Graham, is also on the Orange County Register’s website and can be accessed here with a subscription.

As we noted in our brief recap last week, IUSD and its developer partners reached an agreement in 2011 that granted the district 40 acres near the northeast border of the Great Park to build a new campus, which must open by September 2016 to prevent overcrowding at IUSD’s other high schools. Last month the Irvine City Council voted to offer a second 40-acre site for consideration, setting the district on concurrent review paths.

On Oct. 15, the IUSD Board of Education and district staff engaged in a four-hour discussion that covered the pros and cons of each site along with detailed breakdowns of the mitigation agreements that are already in place with developers, the state’s process for site approval, joint-use possibilities and the implications of delaying the project or switching locations this late in the game.

“What advantages did Site B offer?,” Graham writes in Tuesday’s Irvine World News article. “Could Site A designs be easily transferred to the second location? What were the monetary and programmatic costs of delay? And, most important, would moving the school opening back a year be worth the change in location?

“Analysis of both sites is ongoing; a clear winner has yet to be chosen.”

Again, you can find the full article here.

IUSD Board of Education discusses district’s fifth high school and proposed alternative site

This week, the IUSD Board of Education engaged in a marathon discussion over the district’s fifth comprehensive high school and a possible alternative location.

No action was taken by board members on Tuesday night, but over the course of several hours district staff and consultants delivered a detailed presentation that covered the pros and cons associated with both sites, as well as IUSD’s mitigation agreements with developers, the state’s process for site approval, joint-use possibilities with the City of Irvine, timing and the financial implications of switching locations.

With residential development on the rise, IUSD has repeatedly articulated the need to open a fifth comprehensive high school in the fall of 2016 to prevent significant overcrowding at its other high school campuses. To that end, the district and its partnering developers have agreements in place for a 40-acre chunk of property near the northeast border of the Orange County Great Park, generally referred to as Site A.

But a member of the Irvine City Council has proposed an alternative parcel for the school, and on Sept. 10 the City Council voted to offer 40 acres of city-owned land on the west side of the Great Park, known as Site B, for the district’s consideration.

IUSD is now reviewing both sites. But, as was shared on Tuesday, it’s far more complicated than simply deciding between two locations. For starters, there are complex legal agreements in place with multiple developers, and the review process for Site B is just beginning, making it highly unlikely that a campus could open at that location in 2016. There are also significant costs associated with changing sites, including hefty state fees and the price of temporarily housing an influx of high school students elsewhere if the project is delayed a year or two.

The bottom line is that any location is bound to have its pluses and minuses. While proponents of Site B have noted that Site A is slated to be part of a residential development that is closer to the minimum-security James A. Musick Facility, there is no evidence to suggest that facility poses an increased safety threat. Meanwhile, there are safety concerns and questions that need to be answered as part of the evaluation process for Site B, which would be located in a more heavily trafficked area of the Orange County Great Park.

“We know what Site A is,” board member Sharon Wallin said. “So do you take Site A, or do you take what’s behind the door? … At this point I don’t know that it’s been unveiled.”

Needless to say, state and federal agencies have high standards for building new schools, and IUSD’s school board members expressed their commitment to putting students first. IUSD will continue vetting both sites on concurrent tracks, leading up to complete site reviews by the California Department of Education.

School board opts to fill vacant seat with provisional appointee, now seeking candidates

Members of the IUSD Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to fill a soon-to-be-vacant school board seat with a provisional appointment, avoiding the costly option of a special election.

The board will now collect applications, interview finalists and select one qualified candidate to complete the term of Dr. Gavin Huntley-Fenner, who announced at the last board meeting that he’s stepping down on Nov. 21. His successor will assume all powers and duties of a governing board member until the next regularly scheduled election in November 2014.

A two-member subcommittee of Sharon Wallin and Michael Parham was appointed Tuesday to develop selection criteria and interview questions for prospective candidates, who can apply for consideration by completing this IUSD Board of Education Provisional Appointment Application. These online applications must be submitted by noon on Friday, Nov. 8.

The Board will then review candidates and select finalists for interviews. Here’s a timeline of that process.

Regular board meetings are typically held on the first and third Tuesday of every month, with occasional special meetings. Board members, who must live in the district, typically spend about 15 to 20 hours a week participating in community functions, county and state events, trainings and meeting preparation.

Incidentally, the Orange County Registrar of Voters had estimated the cost of a special election to be between $338,657 and $380,450.

Also on Tuesday night:

  • Board members engaged in a lengthy discussion about the location, timing and financing of IUSD’s fifth comprehensive high school. We have more on that in this separate post.
  • The board ratified an agreement with the Irvine Teachers Association that raises compensation by 2 percent and includes a one-time payment equal to 1.7 percent of each employee’s pay based on the 2013-14 salary schedule. The new contract for certificated educators also ups the district’s contribution for health benefits. Board members had ratified a nearly identical agreement with classified employees at their last meeting, and they approved a similar settlement with the Irvine Supervisory Association on Tuesday. The agreements collectively mark the first cost-of-living increases for IUSD employees since 2008.
  • The evening began with a special presentation on traffic and safety around Irvine schools. Presenters included Lauren Sipelis, director of elementary education; Keith Tuominen, director of secondary education; Tom Allan from the Irvine Police Department and Laurie Grushka from the City of Irvine.