High school district kicks off a variety of Prop AA-funded projects over the summer


By Karen Billing

“New and improved” is a description that can be applied to many San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) campuses after a round of projects funded by Prop AA took off this year.

The school board held a facilities workshop on Sept. 4 to hear a project report on what the district accomplished during the summer — and the many more upgrades yet to come.

“This was the busiest summer ever for this district,” said Eric Dill, assistant superintendent of business services. “There is over $47 million in ongoing projects right now.”

Over the summer there were three media center remodels; technology upgrades across the board; work started on a new science building at Torrey Pines High School and on the new joint library space at Earl Warren Middle School; a new middle school in Pacific Highlands Ranch is under construction and they were even able to create space for new physical education facilities at Torrey Pines High School.

The district plans to issue its second bond draw, a total of $125 million, in spring 2015.

As the district readies for Series B, Dill said they are looking to shift some of the projects in their construction timeline to address the highest priorities — some projects will move up to be completed earlier, some will be pushed back to later.

“The focus is on academic buildings. (Projects like) technology upgrades in classrooms, balancing enrollment demand with capacity at the academies and new and renovated science classrooms,” Dill said. “The idea is that academic classrooms really touch every student whereas specialty items are a little more limited. We thought it was important to get classrooms ready and focus on what Prop AA was really intended to do.”

The original financing plan remains about the same for 2015, with $76 million worth of projects, but in 2016 is where there is the biggest difference, from a proposed $5.8 million to a proposed $37.5 million, reflecting the moving up of the building expansion at Canyon Crest Academy and a new two-story classroom at San Dieguito Academy to address capacity needs. In 2016 the district also plans to design the second classroom building for Middle School #5, to be ready to construct if needed in 2017-19.

Originally, only music room, performing arts center, quad and food service improvements at Carmel Valley Middle School had been planned in the construction timeline for 2016. That project has been pushed back to 2017.

Russell Thornton, the high school district’s chief facilities officer, gave an overview of all of the various projects that began this busy summer.

At La Costa Canyon, they successfully transformed the library into a media center that is more of a student commons.

“It is much different than a traditional media center. We’ve moved the books out of the center to along the perimeter and brought in flexible furnishings and the students have really gravitated toward those areas,” Thornton said.

At Diegueno Middle School, its new media center pops with green and teal chairs, more moveable tables and seating spots — one student compared the exciting space to Google.

At Diegueno, they also renovated the school’s front entry, adding a central opening space to better direct students into campus and added security with a big new rolling gate.

Diegueno Principal Bjorn Paige relayed a story to the district board about how a parent on the first day of school thanked them for the new gates — it made it her feel a lot better about her child’s safety at school.

At Oak Crest Middle School, they upgraded the rooms dedicated to Career Exploration of Science and Math Applications to Research and Technology (CE-SMART), including adding air conditioning. They also improved the path of travel at the school, adding ADA compliant ramps at the fields — they will now look at how to landscape the area.

The district is also planning for new science buildings at Oak Crest, taking out the old re-locatable classrooms, and expanding Crest Hall for music and a media center. John Addleman, director of planning services, said they are also working with the city of Encinitas to get a coastal development permit on a project to improve the storm water system and for street frontage improvements.

At San Dieguito High School Academy they completed the stadium and restroom building and they are working on improvements on Bonita Drive for fire access. The district plans to start a math and science building project and a tennis court reconstruction in summer 2015.

The district plans to start construction on the La Costa Valley field project in the beginning of 2015.

At Earl Warren Middle School, demolition of Warren Hall was complete in three days and they are digging footings now for the new data center.

At Torrey Pines High School, the new weight room should be complete in November — the site of the old weight room will be the new science building. Over the summer they completed work on a new fire lane, stadium lights and on the PA system — it works so well they already heard from several neighbors about hearing all the action from Friday night’s football game.

At Torrey Pines, the district was able to find new PE space “out of nothing” when they worked on cutting the access road and dug out $20,000 worth of soil. Instead of spending $20,000 to haul away the dirt, they were able to fill a slope and pick up a half-acre of land. It will be enough room for a whole new play field, Thornton said.

Addleman said they are also working on making Del Mar Heights Road the official entry for Torrey Pines High School with better student access and a landscape renovation.

The Carmel Valley Middle School’s new media center has been very enthusiastically received

“This is our favorite project of the whole summer because the district did it all on our own, no architects or outside consultants, just working with staff on how to make a space that was crammed into a very usable space for our students,” Thornton said. “The students like the soft furniture. They go right to the cushy, soft furniture, plop down and start studying.”

At Canyon Crest Academy (CCA), the big summer project was the balance of the stadium and athletic fields. A new play field is expected to be complete in two weeks — by October CCA will have practice baseball fields and the varsity baseball fields will be complete in February.

At neighboring Middle School 5, Thornton said it changes daily as work progresses quickly on the new 22-story classroom building that will be ready to welcome students by fall 2015.

During public comment Steven McDowell, a candidate for the SDUHSD board, challenged the board about a San Diego County Grand Jury Report that seeks to establish criteria to help voters on bond financing.

“Voters need and deserve clear, concise school bond information from the school districts in order to make informed decisions concerning what projects they need to be funded and whether or not the school district is making sound fiduciary decisions,” McDowell said.

He was looking for information such as the exact upper limit of the amount borrowed, the maximum interest rate and the repayment schedule. He said the district has also failed to indicate whether it intends to issue bonds again at a premium.

At the meeting, Dill said the district would follow all the rules in place in response to the Grand Jury Report. He reported that Series B would have a debt service of $242 million and a payback ratio of 1.93:1.

Dill said that assessed property values leveled out during the recession but saw an uptick in 2013. The highest tax rate projected for this year is $25; the average tax rate is $24.73.

“The San Diego County Property Tax Services told us that the tax rate is sufficient to cover our debt service,” Dill said.

Next steps for the district include reviewing proposed projects, reviewing assessed value assumptions and determining bonding capacity for the next and future series. A first step will be preparing request for proposals for its financing team.

“We want to make sure with every issuance we have the most qualified firms at the best price,” Dill said.

After bonds are issued in spring, the district hopes to start construction on another busy summer in 2015.