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  • $90 million in Measure U money begins to flow

    (Originally published Dec. 21, 2016, in the Coastal View News. Reprinted with permission of the Coastal View News.)

    By Christian Beamish

    A strong majority of stakeholders in the Carpinteria Unified School District—teachers, staff, facilities experts, the school board and most-importantly, the community at large— agreed that each of the district’s seven campuses is in need of major upgrades. Now, two years after passing Measure U, Carpinteria and Summerland voters are about to see their aging schools transformed into 21st-century educational institutions.

    Carpenteria school district Measure U project staff

    Cindy Abbott and David Weniger with a fraction of the concept plans for Measure U projects. (photo by Lea Boyd of the Coastal View News)

    As the 66 percent of Carpinterians who voted for Measure U well know, the bond measure raises the $90 million needed for campus improvements by increasing property taxes at a rate of $47 per $100,000 of assessed property value. With work set to begin early in 2017, the complex logistics and sheer scale of the projects have had CUSD facilities planners working carefully with architectural firms and consultants on timelines and design elements to ensure that construction will remain on schedule and within budget.

    Unforeseeable costs and delays, such as the kitchen drains and plumbing that school officials recently discovered need replacing at Aliso, Canalino and Carpinteria Middle schools, can plague any large undertaking. But perhaps the biggest challenge the Measure U projects face is gaining approval from the Division of the State Architect. “If there’s an earthquake, you want to be at a school,” Cindy Abbott, Measure U Facilities Coordinator, said of the DSA’s stringent safety requirements.

    In the interest of meeting those requirements, CUSD has hired two architectural firms, KBZ Architects and Robert Robles Architecture, who specialize in school construction and the particular process of gaining DSA approval.

    Plans for each of the campus projects will be submitted to the DSA early in 2017, but work was already completed last summer on several projects that don’t require DSA approval, including a walkway replacement at the high school, completion of a multi- purpose room at Canalino and a new roof on the multi-purpose building at the middle school. DSA approval is also not required for the installation of new fire alarm systems with voice capabilities at each campus, which will take place during summer 2017.

    As much work as possible will be completed in the summer months when schools are not in session, but construction during the academic year will be unavoidable over the next five years, continuing into 2021. Orchestrating the construction timeline hinges not only on DSA approval but shifting students across campuses to accommodate construction. Summerland students, for example, will be moved to Aliso temporarily while their school is built.

    Out with the old portables

    Measure U will come to the rescue of every campus in CUSD. Replacing the 63 aging portable buildings district-wide with state-of-the-art, Gen 7 modular buildings will be the biggest undertaking of the bond measure. “At the end of the day, we aren’t going to have any portables in this district,” said Weniger.

    The modular classrooms will be 90 percent built in an offsite factory, then delivered and installed on new foundations at CUSD campuses. Constructing the new buildings from the ground up would have been more costly and require longer displacement of students. Abbott and Weniger plan to order the modulars in early 2017 and expect to have them arrive for installation about 18 months later.

    Portable classrooms are intended as temporary learning spaces, with a limited lifespan. An analysis of CUSD’s portables, many of which were installed 20 to 40 years ago, found most to be in fair to poor condition. The modular classrooms have a 50-year lifespan, on par with custom-built classrooms.

    Summerland School to be completely re-built

    “The whole (Summerland) campus has to be rebuilt when those portables come out,” Cindy Abbott told the school board at its meeting on Nov. 8. Due to the slope of the property at Summerland School, which is currently served by a collection of portable classrooms, construction crews will need to anchor the foundations for the new modular classroom buildings into bedrock well below the depth required at other sites. Trenching to determine the seismic stability of the Summerland campus has been completed, and engineers have deemed the site a suitable home for the school into the future.

    “Because of the hillside and the geology, there are tremendous challenges in doing this work,” Abbott told the board. The Facilities Master Plan, a document created before the bond measure election that outlines the scope and cost of projects to be paid for by Measure U, allocated $2.5 million for Summerland School, but the cost to rebuild the small school is now estimated at $6 million.

    On Nov. 8, the school board approved a plan to use funds from the sale of district property on Toro Canyon Road and $830,000 in developer fees to bridge the funding gap for the Summerland School project. The district has held onto $2.5 million from the sale of Toro Canyon property several years ago.

    Abbott said that selling the district-owned property on Whitney Avenue in Summerland would be the preferred option to support the Summerland School project; however, the unimproved property lost most of its value when the Montecito Water District implemented a moratorium on new water meters. When the ban is lifted, the district may sell Whitney to replenish lost Toro sale funds.

    Retiring board member Terry Hickey Banks noted that while she understood that Summerland School necessarily requires a greater share of Measure U funds relative to its size than the other campuses in the CUSD due to the extent of the work that needs to be done there, she nevertheless urged her fellow board members to distribute funds evenly to all the schools across the district in the future.

    Rincon and Foothill to move onto CHS

    At the recommendation of facilities staff and consultants, Rincon and Foothill High Schools will relocate next door to the campus of Carpinteria High School. Explaining the proposed move to the school board on Nov. 8, architect Robert Robles said, “(The move) will have a positive effect on operational costs.”

    The current CHS administrative building will be modernized and installed with two sizable classrooms in order to house Rincon and Foothill alternative schools. Plans for CHS include a new administrative office and student services building to the east of the current location, which will make a more practical entry point for the school.

    Robles noted that his design takes a “soft approach” to forming a perimeter around the future site of Rincon. “We don’t want Carpinteria High School students, or students at Rincon High to look in, or look out, and feel there’s some sort of institutionalization of the student body there, or stigmatizing them in any way,” he said.

    Keeping Rincon High in its present location with the upgrades called for in the updated master plan comes with a 23 percent greater cost than moving next door. “It’s a better fit (on the Carpinteria High campus) than the original location to meet all the staff wants for the school,” Robles said.

    Barnaby Gloger, principal of both Rincon High School and the Family School on the Canalino campus, said “The plan that has been presented is one that our staff sees opportunity in. (Moving Rincon High) will help us see all of our students as all of our students, district wide—not Carpinteria High, not Rincon, not Foothill, but all of our students here in the Carpinteria district.”

    Terry Hickey Banks stated, “I have mixed feelings about this. I really do believe we have a great success with our Rincon High School program and a huge part of that is we demonstrate a real value of that program and those students. I want to make sure, and it’s going to be your decision moving forward,” Hickey Banks said, gesturing to her fellow board members, “I want to make sure that Rincon and Foothill don’t lose that—that they maintain that identity and staff that is so good with these students, and gives them real opportunity in life.”

    Background and the future

    After working for CUSD as the Assistant Superintendent from 2002 until her retirement in June of 2016, Abbott was re-hired as the Measure U Facilities Coordinator in November of 2016. Abbott said she began to realize about four years ago that, “We (as a district) were just putting our finger in the dyke—the buildings were so old that it was not a good learning environment.” Working with teachers and staff, Abbott said, “We began evaluating the facilities.”

    Starting by simply making a list of everything that needed attention district wide, the process became more and more formalized before being adopted by the school board into the Facilities Master Plan in June 2014, and then brought before Carpinteria voters in November of 2014. The district hired David Weniger in March 2015 as the Director of Facilities and Operations, and Abbott noted “(Weniger) has been key to Measure U because of his extensive experience in school construction planning and oversight,” adding that he is a resident of Carpinteria, and that his children and grandchildren have attended Carpinteria schools.

    Looking forward, Abbott said, “It is very exciting for me to be able to help bring all of the projects planned for the next few years to fruition. The community of Carpinteria has shown such tremendous support of its schools and I feel really lucky to be here.” She and Weniger stressed that the facilities staff, as well as the entire educational community in Carpinteria, have been essential to the planning process thus far.

    With a detailed plan laid out for the work ahead Weniger said, “We’re all feeling good about this schedule, but it’s a living document” he noted, alluding to the fact that unforeseeable events will likely alter the timeline despite the careful planning that has gone into creating it.