Neighbors weigh in on new Solana Vista School design concepts

The Solana Beach School District (SBSD) board reviewed some of the first conceptual renderings of the proposed new Solana Vista Elementary School campus at its July 19 meeting. The board gave direction to keep as much green space as possible, remove student co-location during construction as an option, and to configure the kindergarten through third grade school within the existing footprint on Santa Victoria and San Patricio Drive.

Despite some rumors circulating throughout the community, SBSD Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger stressed that the design is still in the very early, conceptual phase—the district still has to complete a traffic report, geotechnical studies and work through California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Coastal Commission.

The new campus is envisioned in the modern Spanish ranch style: single story buildings with low slanted roofs that match the neighborhood. All of the relocatables on the blacktop will be gone, replaced with 24 new classrooms, special rooms for STREAM, a new multi-purpose room and a service kitchen with a covered dining area.

The preliminary designs proposed shifting the school buildings to a different part of the property in order to accommodate interim housing of students on the campus while construction is ongoing. Reconfiguring the school on the site would also flip the location of the ballfields from one side of the property to the other, prompting concerns from the surrounding neighbors as well as members of the board.

During public comment, several residents from San Patricio spoke out against the new configuration of the school, which would move classroom buildings and noise closer to residences and move the ballfields to an entirely new area, affecting views and property values.

“I don’t think the school needs to move,” said neighbor Eric Granholm. “It’s just not fair, it’s just not safe and it’s just not necessary.”

“I love the idea of having a dynamic learning institution at Solana Vista, I think we all agree on that,” said Donna Granholm. “But we feel that this proposal significantly decreases our property values and negatively affects our lifestyle.”

Granholm said it would be wasteful to relocate the new Solana Beach Little League’s Snack Shack, which is only a couple of years old, and noted that moving the ballfields could potentially shrink them in size due to the topography of the site.

The board majority was against the plan to provide interim housing on the site—the plan would be to house third grade students at Skyline School while kindergarten through second grade remained at Solana Vista with the construction for two years.

“There’s no space between the construction and where the students are housed. I’m worried about the noise, I’m worried about the dirt, the air quality, I just can’t even imagine,” SBSD board member Vicki King said about the concept of pairing “little teeny kids” with large construction trucks and cranes.

SBSD Vice President Julie Union said she supported the idea of getting all students off campus for a one-year construction timeline, sending second and third grade to Skyline and kindergarten and first to Solana Highlands Elementary School in Carmel Valley.

“I’m not in favor of students being there,” Union said of the interim housing. “I think we could move faster and we could save money by speeding up the process. Skyline is beautiful and those kids are going to be going there in the future anyway so they’ll be comfortable with the school. I just think it makes a lot of sense.”

SBSD Clerk Holly Lewry said the construction firms the district interviewed all stated that having kids on campus during construction is a safe and fairly normal practice but her concern was in shortening the construction impact on the surrounding residential neighborhood where the roads are very narrow.

“If there’s any way, we should limit it to one year versus two years because the construction traffic is so disruptive,” Lewry said.

Without the interim housing, SBSD President Debra Schade said that she was not sure the proposed design to reconfigure the school site was a viable option. Schade said that green space is at a premium in Solana Beach and maintaining that space is a key component of the district’s facilities master plan.

“I personally believe that field space is very valuable to the community,” Schade said. “We really are not interested in taking that away.”

SBSD board member Richard Leib said interim housing should not drive the design of the campus.

“Philosophically, I hate designing a school based on one-year construction when you’re going to have a 60-year school,” Leib said. “I think it’s important that we take what’s best in terms of a design and not really factor in the interim housing so we can have a design that actually makes sense for 60 years.”

A 41-member design team has been meeting since May 2017 on the new Solana Vista School and the board agreed to expand the design team to include representatives from the San Patricio neighborhood.

According to Caroline Brown, executive director of capital programs and technology, the plan is to hold parent and community design forums in September and have that input inform the final conceptual design presented to the board for approval in October or November. Brown said the district is targeting summer 2019 for construction to begin.

The board encouraged the design team to engage with the community as soon as possible, worrying that a month might not be enough time to gather feedback—Schade noted that it is a fast-tracked timeline but if it is not doable they can adjust it.

“The good news is we have a neighborhood that really wants a new school and I think we ought to work together,” Leib said.

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