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Immediate fixes coming, but long term future cloudy for SCHS facilities
By Jim Shilander
Retiring Capistrano Unified School District Superintendent Joseph Farley told San Clemente High School parents and staff Wednesday that while a number of important immediate needs would be taken care of this summer, major construction and renovations at the school will likely have to wait until either the district has a new facilities funding mechanism or a facilities bond can be passed in the area.
Farley and other CUSD staff who attended the hour-long forum at the school’s Little Theater told parents that work on the roofs of both the Triton Center and theater would be completed this summer, as would work on the school’s upper campus, general upgrades and “curb appeal” projects. However, the district’s fund for such projects, totaling approximately $4 million, is shared throughout the district and other schools also require work, such as the replacement of the HVAC system at Dana Hills High School.
Farley said there has been recent good news from the state in terms of funding, as for the first time in several years, the 2014-2015 school year for the district will have a 180 day school year with no furlough days and no further reduction in class sizes. But, Farley said, during the economic downturn, the district had been forced to raid its deferred maintenance fund in order to address budget shortfalls, and a number of maintenance and janitorial staff had been let go.
SCHS, which was opened in 1964, received a number of modernizations from 2000-2003. A new auxiliary gym was built in 2008, and the upper campus, the former Ole Hanson Elementary School, had some of its former kindergarten classrooms converted into science labs.
The district has developed a master plan for improving the facilities, totaling $76,368,973. The plurality of that money is slated to go to new and improved classrooms and “essential core facilities.” The upper campus is also likely to be phased out, since district staff estimated it would cost millions to make the site compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Possible future upgrades include moving ninth grade campuses closer to the main campus, a new pool, expansion of hillside bleachers at Thalassa Stadium and a new performing arts theater.
John Forney, the district’s executive director for facilities, said a recent visit to the upper campus convinced him there were severe issues.
“It’s in dire need,” Forney said. “Even though we have these long term plans, it’s something we have to do.”
Farley noted that the district does not currently have the funding to begin these projects. Most of the district’s funding for new buildings or renovations comes from community facilities districts from new developments. However, those funds are restricted in use. Farley said those paying additional taxes to help pay for the construction of schools aren’t enthusiastic for approving new facilities bonds. Such a bond would be necessary, Farley said, since the state was no longer providing funds for new school construction.
“I don’t know what else can be done because there’s no money coming from other sources,” Farley said.
The district would be willing to put forth a bond proposal to voters, Farley told parents, but it would have to be at least fairly certain it would pass. That was in doubt, he said, since the district’s voters rejected Proposition 30 with 67 percent of the vote. But, he did hold out the possibility that outreach could be targeted to voters in the right areas to get such a bond passed.
As part of the search for new superintendent, the district had included experience maintaining older facilities like SCHS as desired. However, there was no current desire on the board of trustees to put a facilities bond increase on the ballot.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make this place look better,” Farley said.
Parents urged the district to do what it had to do to fix the current needs, including improving bathroom facilities and classroom modernization. Others urged the construction of a new performing arts facility to replace the decaying Triton Center as a priority, since athletic facilities had received much of the recent attention.
A link to the master plan presentation can be found here.