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Proposed high school already making waves

Irvine council expresses concern about the chosen location in the northeast part of the city.

April 13, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani

Although it's more than three years away from completion, Irvine's fifth high school is already causing a furor in the council chambers.

Or at least its location is.

Instead of a 40-acre parcel in the northeast part of the city, City Councilman Larry Agran suggested using one of two spots close to Trabuco Road.

"This is the worst site," he said about the 40-acre parcel, labeled Site A.

At Tuesday's meeting, Agran proposed two alternative locations for the school, saying Site A is in a remote area where no residential development has been planned for the next five years, and it is too far away for students in Woodbury, Stonegate, Portola Hills and other neighborhoods.

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While developer FivePoint Communites plans to build 5,800 residential units close to Site A, the homes would be within the Saddleback Unified School District, catering to El Toro High School, he said.

School district lines are not always consistent with city boundaries.

Agran also objected to the site being 1,000 yards from Musick Jail, which houses 1,000 inmates in a low-security setting but in time will be transformed to hold 3,100, and eventually 7,500, maximum-security prisoners.

According to Irvine Unified School District Supt. Terry Walker, the site is already in escrow and the district is on the verge of creating an environmental impact report, or EIR. The district is communicating directly with FivePoint Communities, also known as Heritage Fields, he said.

"Our enrollment projections show that we need this school completed by the fall of 2016, and that timeline is extremely important to us," Walker said. "This far down the road, the issue for the school board obviously would be if it looked at an alternate site ... it would obviously prolong the 2016 opening."

This move puts the district and the city way behind the eight ball, Councilwoman Christina Shea said.

"Having this discussion tonight and wasting our time again when ... the train's left the station ... it's two years too late basically," she said, adding that the alternate sites wouldn't serve a purpose because they would create a bottleneck very close to the main entrance of the Great Park.

Andreas Chialtas, a lawyer for the school district, said the board had remained open to suggestions through 2011 and into 2012. In the absence of a formal proposal, "Ultimately, we had to move forward and couldn't wait," he said.

Eventually the council voted 5 to 0 to receive and file the discussion.

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