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John Kunak: Romero Canyon is the better Castaic high school site

SCV Voices

Posted: March 30, 2010 5:19 p.m.
Updated: March 31, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

While the William S. Hart Union High School District once again considers which high school Castaic students attend, I have reservations whether Castaic will ever get a high school of its own.

Part of my suspicion has to do with a belief there is really no desire to spend the money to build a high school in Castaic. We have seen money allocated for this purpose evaporate through other spending decisions made by the Hart district.

Through a second bond measure approved by voters, there is money available to build what was called “the No. 1 priority” of the bond. Nevertheless, we continue to wait as the Hart district cannot even agree on a site for this much-needed school.

Fortunately, the board is now looking at only two potential sites.

One of the two newest proposed “final” sites is the Hasley/Sloan site which has been owned by the Hart Facilities Foundation since 2002, when it was proposed as the “latest” site for the high school. That site was deemed unacceptable in 2002 and remains unacceptable today.

The Hart district staff had proposed to the board that it hire Vanir Management at a cost of almost $700,000 to review the two sites.

The board had the good sense to reject that proposal.

Unfortunately, at the March 17 meeting, it did approve a number of outside consulting firms to explore the two remaining sites in an attempt to discover any “fatal flaws” that would eliminate one of the two sites.

While I do not believe that was necessary, mine is just one opinion, and the board seemed concerned about doing due diligence to make sure the site it would finally select would be the site upon which the high school could actually be built.

The question we now have is: What is a “fatal flaw?” We know the Hasley/Sloan site was opposed successfully by the Castaic community when it was previously considered for the high school.

We know permits for that site will take more than three years to obtain. (Why they were not obtained previously remains a mystery).

We know that school construction there would require removal of 48 oak trees and construction of two bridges at a cost of more than $30 million. Also, a water system would have to be installed at a cost of $6 million.

Also, a secondary access is required by the Los Angeles County Fire Department if a high school is built on the site, in addition to expensive improvements on Hasley Canyon Road.

The secondary access would be Sloan Canyon Road. The residents who own the property have advised the Hart district, through their attorney, that they will not sell to the Hart district under any circumstance, and they will vigorously oppose any eminent domain proceedings undertaken by the district.

This would result in a lengthy and costly legal dispute.

The Romero Canyon site owned by my client, Larry Rasmussen, will result in the building of a Castaic high school in what from this day forward will be the most expeditious and least expensive manner.

Cost of this land should not be a problem, as the state will appraise the land, and Rasmussen is willing to sell it for that appraised value.

Most of the permits and all of the required legwork have already been performed with regard to a proposed residential project on the Romero Canyon land, and all of this completed work can be quickly and easily converted to the necessary permits for the school site.

Rasmussen — praised by former Hart district Superintendent Bob Lee for his assistance in getting Golden Valley High School built — has agreed to continue to get his site ready and has promised a graded pad will be provided to the district within 18 months of the sale of his land to them for purposes of a high school.

Superintendent Marc Winger of the Newhall School District has praised Rasmussen for his assistance in helping overcome numerous obstacles in getting a school built quickly and within budget.

With the current economic situation and with the cost of construction at a historically low rate, the opportunity to move forward and get a Castaic high school built is now.

It is imperative that the Hart district move forward with the purchase of Romero Canyon and the construction of the school, avoiding the problem of separating Castaic high school students among two or more of its other schools.

Unless this action is taken immediately, the promise to have the school built by 2013 will meet with the same failure as all the numerous prior promises for the school’s opening.

John Kunak is a local attorney who served on the Castaic Area Town Council from 2000-2008 and as a member of the Castaic Union School District board from 2001 through 2009. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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