Does Irvine need a Site C for the New High School?

schoolhouseThere’s an ongoing battle in Irvine about the site for the city’s 5th high school; site A which is favored by the IUSD school board and the superintendent located a near 1,000 yards from the Orange County Musick Jail and a capped landfill and site B near the Great Park support by the City Council members Larry Agran and Beth Krom.

Agran sent a letter to the district last week documenting his concerns about the capped landfill and public safety issues associated with Site A’s proximity to the expanding Jail.  Superintendent Terry Walker sent a newsletter to parents on Friday telling them at Site B, at the Great Park, was hazardous because of two dozen tanks buried underground, which is apparently no problem with that area being used for the actual Great Park but it is, in the superintendent’s view, unacceptable for a new high school.  It’s fun watching the two battle it out on which site is more toxic.

As I won’t have worry about sending any of my kids to the new high school, my opinion is Site A is unacceptable simply because of its proximity to the jail.  Whatever might be in the capped landfill is also a concern, but I don’t believe it’s simply construction materials because if that was the case, why is it capped?  If the tanks, which no one seems to know how large they are, at Site B pose a toxic threat, then kids shouldn’t be going there either.

Missing from both sites are neighborhoods.  Irvine’s high schools have always offered the walk to school option where even students in the outer reaches of the school’s boundaries can to walk to and from school in a reasonable amount of time.  Both Site A and Site B lack that option.  I also take issue with Walker’s claim that school’s near jails don’t place students at risk.  He wrote: “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.”

This contradicts what council member Christina Shea wrote on her blog that maximum security immates could be coming to Musick.  She wrote:  Well, let’s look at what their vote did.  It exposed the City to the County’s original plan of 7,584, including maximum security inmates.

So which is it?  Walker says no risk of maximum security inmates and Shea says they’re coming?  Make up your minds please.

In my own hometown, a medium security prison was built on the site of an old hospital for the developmentally disabled.  It housed drug dealers from Metro New York City and Long Island areas.  With the new inmates came their families and friends, attracted by proximity to their incarcerated loved ones, cheap rents, and various public assistance programs.  In short order, crime went up, truancy at the school district went up, test scores plummented and property values declined, small businesses went bust.  Should Site A go through, I sure hope someone from the city starts keeping score on the number of crimes in the area of the Musick Jail, how many school lockdowns we might have when a prisoner decides to wander, and God forbid, a student is hurt or killed because of proximity to the jail.

Irvine needs a Site C.  A place where the school district and city council can come together and agree on a site that meets the needs of residents, located on a toxic-free site, far away from a jail, and a location students can walk to and from school.

I’ve been fortunate to speak with four of the five school board members as well as both Krom and Agran about my concerns on both sites.  I’ll reserve judgment on the capped landfill at Site A and the toxic test results on Site B to see if environmental concerns would make either unsuitable.  But proximity of Site A to the Jail makes it clearly unacceptable for me.

For your reading enjoyment, here’s the letter sent by IUSD below.  And click here for Agran’s letter to the school board; the comments are below for your debate.

Irvine Unified School District

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 and overhead power lines 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 decision. 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



  2 comments for “Does Irvine need a Site C for the New High School?

  1. Just an Irvine Parent
    January 24, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    As a parent of children enrolled in Irvine schools and thus a stakeholder in a way which you admit you are not, I would say that Site B is self evidently about the Great Park and not about choosing the best location for High School #5. The imaginary Site C would generate the same dubious objections as Site A from the usual suspects.

    • January 26, 2014 at 9:56 am

      I am a parent of a child in IUSD. My daughter’s high school is a short walk away. I disagree with your assertion completely as no site C has been identified. It could be a site jointly selected by stakeholders here

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