By Yvette tenBerge
On April 9, the San Diego Unified School board will make a decision on a pricey, Scripps Ranch building project that has the City of San Diego’s business community and many residents crying foul.
Since 1998, the Scripps Ranch community has openly courted the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) for more elementary and middle schools. With a school-aged population that already tips the scales at 6,000, this community of roughly 35,000 residents expects the number of students to skyrocket in just three to four years.
Scripps Ranch, which is bound by Interstate 15 on the west, Poway to the north and federal land to the east and south, currently has four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. It is projected that it will need another middle school and another elementary school to deal with the upcoming population surge.
To address the problem of overcrowding within the Scripps Ranch area, district staff is recommending the construction of a large, 1,800-student middle school in the Scripps Ranch Business Park on land owned by Intel Corporation, a leading manufacturer of computer, networking and communications products. The existing middle school, Marshall Middle School, will then be converted into an elementary school which will accommodate as many as 1,000 students.
On March 12, Hank Cun-ningham, the Director of the City’s Community and Economic Development Department, sent a letter to Lou Smith, the SDUSD’s Chief Operating Officer. It states that the City of San Diego “strongly opposes” the district’s staff recommendation to construct a new middle school within the Scripps Ranch Business Park, that the recommendation “runs completely counter to good land use planning principles,” and that such construction will result in “severely negative economic and fiscal consequences” for the Scripps Ranch community.
According to the letter, among other major drawbacks, the utilization of this 15-acre parcel of industrial land for school purposes will result in the loss of 2,600 job opportunities, $14 million in General Fund property tax revenue to the City, $12.5 million in General Fund property tax revenue for the County and $52 million in General Fund property tax revenue to the State.
Jeff Brusseau is the Vice President of Newport National, a corporation that manages the interests of occupants of the business park. He is one of the principals of the Scripps Ranch Technology Park, and serves as President of the Scripps Ranch Business Park Owners Association. He also questions the district’s choice of sites, and states that other alternative land sites could be “improved and completed” in a much shorter time frame and for what would amount to “considerable less cost” to the community and the district.
“We acquired property in a master planned business park, and built out a project in accordance with the approved community plan and the Planned Industrial Development (PID). Now, we’re caught in the middle of the district coming in and making a recommendation to put a school in the middle of a business park. This simply doesn’t make sense,” says Mr. Brusseau. “You can search the state, and I’d challenge anyone to find a middle school located in the middle of a business park.”
The district staff’s recommendation to construct a school in the business park is not only provoking the Scripps Ranch business community, it’s angering residents, as well. Both point to land options that they believe would be better suited for a school, and more cost effective.
Jan Selberg is the Co-Founder of Citizens for Quality Schools and Communities (CQS), a grassroots organization that brings education information to residents of Scripps Ranch. She has lived in the community for nine years, and has two children in district schools. She first became involved with education issues in July 2000, after learning that the district was attempting to trade a 12-acre piece of district-owned property called “Fairbrook” for a 6-acre piece of commercial property on which Ellen Browning Scripps Elementary School was built.
“The district’s mega-middle school project is more likely to cost $100 million due to the complexities of property trades and sales. It’s outrageous to spend that amount of money to build a school in an industrial park that is double the recommended size,” says Ms. Selberg, referring to 2001 State and California guidelines for school enrollment, which recommend 600-student elementary schools, 800-student middle schools and 1,000-student high schools. “The Fairbrook property is available, and a decent-sized middle school could be built immediately for around $25 million.”
In the early 1980s, the school district purchased Fairbrook, a 12.06-acre site in the southeast corner of Scripps Ranch, for roughly $360,000. It consists of two, flat pads of land, and was purchased for the purpose of building an elementary school and a neighborhood park. Today, it stands empty, and it is located in the midst of homes that run anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million.
A January 2001 SDUSD Budget Statement shows that the district plans to sell Fair-brook for $3 million and put these funds toward the purchase of the projected middle school.
According to Mr. Smith, Chief Operating Officer of Facilities Management for SDUSD, the district is not considering the use of Fairbrook due to its size. “The Fairbrook property was an alternative studied during the EIR process, but it was rejected because it was deemed too small for the new, Scripps Ranch middle school,” says Mr. Smith.
An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is an in-depth analysis of a construction proposal that examines adverse impacts on all aspects of the environment. The EIR is required in the state of California by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in order to inform and educate both the public and the decision-makers on the effects of their development projects. The 2002 EIR for the proposed Scripps Ranch Middle School presents four site options for the school board’s consideration.
Alternative A is “Cypress Canyon,” a single family residence located on a hill and surrounded by a park and open space; Alternative B is “AIU West” positioned between Alliant University’s college dormitories and federal land occupied by the U.S. Navy; Alternative C is “Scripps Ranch Business Park Lots 6,7 and 8” which are owned by Semtech Corporation and located between Scripps Ranch Boulevard and Scripps Lake Drive, and Alternative D is “Scripps Ranch Business Park Lots 3 and 4,” owned by Intel Corporation and also located between Scripps Ranch Boulevard and Scripps Lake Drive.
As for construction costs, a district comparison chart lists the estimated price tag for building on each of these sites to run between $56 and $67 million. Purchasing the land for the district’s recommended Alternative D could add as much as $20 million to this figure. Any legal fees that the district may incur in fighting the business park or Intel for the land will be added to this, as well.
Peter C. Wulff is the Chief Financial Officer for CryoCor, a San Diego-based, medical technology company. He has lived and worked in the Scripps Ranch area since 1985, and he has a daughter in the third grade. He has followed the district’s site selection process for nearly two years and presents a “better, faster and less expensive” option that CQS will be presenting to the board.
Mr. Wulff lays out the district’s recommended plan. Using their figures, he estimates the total cost of building the new middle school on site “D” to run between $78 and $96.5 million, including land and legal fees. He estimates the next step, conversion of the existing Marshall Middle School into an elementary school, to cost anywhere from $6.5 to $15 million. This project could take as many as nine years to complete.
In order to speed up the process, act in accordance with the district’s budget and “deliver a school that the community wants,” Mr. Wulff proposes that the district allow for the community to have two middle schools supporting 800 to 900 students each, rather than one very large middle school. Marshall would stay a middle school, and a second middle school would be constructed on the district-owned, 12-acre Fairbrook parcel. To solve the problem of needing another elementary school, Mr. Wulff suggests upgrading the existing temporary school into a permanent facility. It is estimated that this project would take two to four years to complete and could knock as much as $50 million off the price.
“The district has recommended a 1,800-kid middle school. One, it’s too big for children that age, and the students will be washed out. Two, business and schools don’t mix,” says Mr. Wulff, who cringes at the idea of students riding skateboards in business parking lots, and at the increased drug problems faced by large schools. “We want a quality education for our children, and we want to reduce overcrowding, so we have come up with the least painful solution.”
Although the district states that it has the cost of the staff recommended plan covered with a combination of Proposition MM funds, a $1.5 billion bond measure passed in 1998 to provide for the repair and construction of schools, and $5 million in community-pledged monies, residents like Ms. Selberg feel that the district is missing the mark.
“The district has a fiduciary responsibility to provide quality schools for all students, not just students in wealthy neighborhoods. It’s not so much that we don’t want this project, but we don’t need it. We could spend $25 million in Scripps Ranch and have the right-sized school on district-owned land,” says Ms. Selberg, who points to schools south of Interstate 8 as locations in need of repairs and construction. “To spend up to $100 million on this project is a gross deprivation to other students in San Diego Unified.”