Hart Board should not rush through decision tonight.
The following article represents the opinion of Station Manager Jon Dell, and not necessarily that of KHTS Radio.
We live in a world of decisions. Some are of the daily, redundant variety, others carry more lasting consequences.
For any reasonable person, a large decision with major impacts requires a close look into the details of each choice. The past, present and future all take turns shining their light on the subject and debate rages. Choosing the site for a high school in Castaic is a $120 million dollar decision, and it deserves to be treated as such.
Tonight, the William S. Hart District School Board will hold a special two-hour meeting at their Administrative Center (address at the bottom of this article) beginning at 5:00 p.m. Over the course of the meeting the board will review a synopsis of three potential sites in which to build a high school in Castaic.
The first site is off Romero Canyon Road, referred to as the "Rasmussen" property because it is owned by local developer Larry Rasmussen. The second site was purchased by the District's Facilities Foundation seven years ago and is located off Hasley Canyon and Sloan Canyon Roads. The third site is located near Val Verde in a segment of land dubbed "Green Valley." Little data is available for this site, as it is still a newcomer in this debate.
Tonight's meeting could yield a vote by the board. Now, that vote could be anything. It could take one or more sites off the table. It could order a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). It could postpone the whole matter.
Time is of the essence. Students need a high school in Castaic soon. The Romero Canyon site has permits in place and can begin construction immediately, but the district is concerned about the cost. The Hasley/Sloan site may or may not be cheaper; we won't know without further studies. A full EIR would set construction back over a year, and the value of waiting might not outweigh the benefits of having an operational school by 2013.
Tonight, the Board should postpone any decision 60-90 days and order a professional, impartial evaluation into the Hasley/Sloan site's potential development costs.
A guess vs. an educated guess
The presentation set for tonight is heavy on estimations, light on hard data. The Romero Canyon site already has County-issued permits and a wealth of data to examine. That data is crucial when putting together a cost analysis. The Hasley/Sloan property doesn't have anywhere near the amount of data compiled, which undoubtedly makes its cost analysis less credible. Comparing these two properties at this point in time is impossible when one relies on fact, the other on eye-level estimation.
It's too big to be rushed
This is a $120 million dollar decision, and will affect tens of thousands of students, parents, motorists and Castaic residents for decades to come. Public input needs to be vetted in front of the board, over several weeks when residents have real information to look at. The Castaic community has waited too long to rush this through in a two-hour meeting.
The numbers don't add up
On a breakdown of the land costs, the District's proposal shows the Romero Canyon site will cost about $7 million. The Hasley/Sloan site has a $0 cost attached. This is because the District already owns the site. However the site was never free; it cost the District about $3 million several years ago. That needs to be corrected. Additionally, the site could hold a value much increased from its cost in the future. While it is inappropriate to speculate into that potential value here, we must know that it is a possibility. And if the sale of the land could produce a net profit for the District, that could be applied to Castaic High's construction.
This Board is expired
Why is this going before the current Board members? Two of them won't even be in office by Christmas. It's really hard to hold them accountable when they're not there. The newly elected Board should be the one to handle this.
It's not as accessible as it could be
This meeting should not take place at 5:00 p.m. before a regularly scheduled Board meeting. These public forums should be conducted in a time and place accessible by the majority of the community. Additionally, they should be without a time limit. By scheduling a regular Board meeting afterwards the District could end up short on time.
Too many variables
This continues on the argument that the Hasley Sloan property doesn't have enough solid data. A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) map shows that a portion of the land sits in a floodway which would require mitigation. The District does calculate funding for this; however Rasmussen's camp has charged that these costs will far exceed their estimations, bringing the total project cost up. I know what you're thinking; "Of course the Romero folks would say that," but the fact remains that no one can prove them wrong without looking into the issue more. The last thing the District needs is to be committed to a project when a $20 million-dollar "surprise" hits.
We can't repeat the past
The Hart District Modernization project did not go well. Unexpected problems, miscalculations and other planning deficiencies were to blame for the project's out-of-control budget. As a result, work was delayed, the scale of the project was broken up, and parents had more than a few choice words at several board meetings. We cannot afford to repeat history. Proper planning is a must.
The present is not limited to tonight
Everyone knows that it is time to move forward on the high school. However, choosing one site for the high school is not the only way to move forward. Proper investigation, due diligence, these are all ways to keep moving towards the greatest goal. Don't be fooled into thinking its now or never.
The future depends on this decision
Looking at the age of our most prestigious local schools, we must believe that Castaic High will be around for over 50 years. What does that mean for access? Where will the future development be and how will that change access to the school? How will each site impact the surrounding community 10, 20 years from now? We need to pay as much attention to the future as we do the present.
My goal here is not to chastise the Hart School Board or District staff...they haven't made a decision yet. Our kids have some of the best test scores in the state and we've navigated some major challenges over the course of the years.
I will, however, remind the entire Santa Clarita Valley that this project must be done right. The only decision the board should make tonight is to study the Hasley/Sloan property more. This does not require a full EIR. Simply take a closer look with the help of professionals at some of the glaring question marks, like the mitigation costs. The discussion should resume in 60-90 days with a schedule of appropriately timed public meetings where the Castaic community can be heard.
The planning should be precise and industry professionals should be consulted. The board should be able to cast a vote with no regrets because they explored every viable option to its core and made the best decision for Castaic, and the Santa Clarita Valley.
As a media man I vow to keep this issue at the forefront of our news offerings. Our News department will cover the debate fairly and honestly. We will open our e-mails to the community and reflect your feedback, concerns and wishes. When a meeting is planned, it will be well known. Consider this a new mini-beat for our reporters to follow.
Now parents, it is your turn. If you can make tonight's 5:00 p.m. meeting, I encourage you to do so. Public comment will be heard, and now is the time to give your two cents. Tell them what you want, and let them know your feelings. The District's administrative center is located at 21515 Centre Pointe Parkway.
Together, we can all ensure that Castaic High School was worth the wait.
Find out what the Board decided here .