The Bonsall Unified School District (BUSD) board of trustees has voted to publish a request for proposals (RFP) for “lease-lease back” services for the Bonsall High School Capital Improvement program, in accordance with recently enacted AB2316. This would be a method that could potentially allow for the school district to fund the high school on its Gird Road site by leasing the land to a developer, who would build the campus and, in turn, lease it back to the district.
A component of AB2316 provides for board adoption and approval of the guidelines and requirements for selection of the lease-leaseback firm on a best value basis. This includes the approval of the evaluation process set forth in the RFP that is to be used for the selection of the successful “best value” lease-lease back firm.
According to Bonsall district superintendent Justin Cunningham, the leaseback agreement is written loosely so that contractors may apply, indicating how they may be able to fulfill the basic tenants of the contract.
“We’ve used a lease-lease back for three schools: Bonsall West, Bonsall Elementary and the two high school buildings,” said Cunningham. “Contractors are not necessarily signing a contract for building. Different contractors will show how they will meet your criteria – some will use more sub-contactors, or others will have more focus on a project manager. There are different ways that contractors build schools, and they show how they would set the parameters.”
“You have an arrangement that lets you have a guaranteed cap on construction costs,” continued Cunningham. “We then select the best value, not just the lowest bid that will end up charging us for every little extra thing, which would have us lose control of the bottom line. We are able to find a contractor that could build within the budget, and offer the services we need within those parameters.”
Though the process has begun at the Gird site, there have been frustrations voiced by residents of the Gird Valley and Sycamore Ranch communities. Peter Kunasz, a representative for Citizens for Accountability in Taxation and Education (CATE), stated plans to build a high school on the Gird Road property have very little, if any, community support.
“The community – not just Gird Valley and Sycamore Ranch – is opposed to building on Gird,” Kunasz said. “Most of the Bonsall School District is opposed to building on Gird. The history of the Gird property is that there has never been a bond passed for a school there; there have been five attempts to fund a bond on Gird and all have failed. It seems obvious that there is no support for a school on Gird.”
“We do have a situation where we had a board member state in recent news reports that they didn’t want to build on the property on Gird Road, and we will have to address that,” said Cunningham.
Kunasz wanted to clarify that the opposition was not to education or school bonds, but specifically to the site that has been selected.
“The opposition to build on Gird is growing beyond Sycamore Ranch,” he said. “There is a very active group of individuals who are called ‘Save Gird Valley’ and they are very opposed to the school on Gird. It’s important to make that distinction. We are opposed to placing a school in that area because it’s not the best choice for the school.”
Kunasz stated part of the concern was the fact that the district wouldn’t be able to build a high school of the size that has been mentioned due to environmental concerns.
“Cunningham has publicly stated the district would ideally like to build a high school that would support anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 students,” said Kunasz, “However, because of a limitation placed by the state board of education for acreage and the number of students that can be supported, the number of students that can be housed at the high school may be significantly smaller.”
“The Gird Road property is approximately 50 acres, however, studies done in the past by state agencies and contractors have shown there is only 24 buildable acres of land due to environmental and biological concerns,” said Kunasz. “What that means is that the Gird Road site can support a high school of about 500 to 600 students. However, the final decision on how much land is usable will be determined after more ongoing studies have been completed and reviewed. It is a complicated process with several different agencies involved and challenges to the findings are common, resulting in delays for many years.”
Kunasz stated the studies were previously performed by the California Fish and Game Department, which released geographical maps that showed where the arroyo toad’s habitat is found throughout San Diego County.
“I don’t know where the 16 acres have to be taken off the site,” said Cunningham. “The area separated for the critically endangered arroyo toad that was mentioned earlier is now taken as a given. Our environmental studies haven’t concluded that, and we need the environmental study finished before coming to conclusions. I’m not sure where [opponents to the Gird site] have gotten that information; maybe it was from something years ago.”
The property is still in the earliest of development stages, with environmental impact reports still being undergone, said Cunningham.
“We understand that people don’t want growth in their area,” said Cunningham. “They retired in a spot they like. But what we have to do is keep in mind that we have to serve an 88-square mile school district. We have gone so far, and cannot find another, better spot. We have been working on this for years. We are moving ahead with the idea that we have to do so with all our taxpayers in the 88-square mile district in mind.”
According to Cunningham, the district is still entertaining other possible alternatives to Gird Road.
“We’ve been down about 13 different roads, and we’re getting to the point where we keep coming back to the Gird property,” he said.
Cunningham stated that the RFP is designated only for the Gird Road site, as the plan is to have architects design along the lines of the area to create a school design that will “fit beautifully” in the area.
Some opponents of the Gird site construction have cited concerns in regards to the district’s facilities director, David Medcalf. Prior to working for the district, Medcalf worked for local contractor Erickson Hall. Cunningham stated that this was a benefit to the district, not a conflict of interest.
“He’s who set up our RFP,” said Cunningham. “He knows a lot of the legalities, and has a lot of training. But Mr. Medcalf was not on the selection panel; we couldn’t put him there. We knew that Erickson Hall is a local contractor, so we assumed they were going to apply. When they put in a proposal, we couldn’t have him on the panel so there is no conflict of interest.”
Another concern brought up by the opponents of the Gird Road site is the fact that the high school population is not large enough for the expansive campus that would be built.
“It’s very expensive to run a separate campus,” said Kunasz. “Money from the state of California is going down, the amount on average daily attendance is going down, and at the last board meeting, they announced they were dangerously low on reserves. For both the school and community, Gird is a terrible project. A bond measure will likely never pass for Gird, and it will cost more money than they could afford to build a small campus that would need to be built on Gird.”
Kunasz stated the school district shouldn’t have a separate high school campus until the numbers expand to need a high school.
“That might take six to seven years,” he said. “The smart thing to do is to continue to explore the Ocean Breeze property, and receive credits for fees down the road that may never be cashed in.”
The Ocean Breeze property surrounds Sullivan Middle School, and Kunasz believes the purchase of the property could allow for a joint middle and high school campus.
“They can be combined in such a way that while contiguous with each other, they can have separate campuses for different identities,” said Kunasz. “Many facilities, such as a playing field, parking lot and auditorium can be shared, which will bring down the cost of operation. That can hold them over for another six to seven years, and down the road, the buildings can be turned over to Sullivan.”
Cunningham stated that the Bonsall school district has been looking into the Ocean Breeze property, but solely as an expansion for Sullivan.
“That would really help in creating a better middle school,” he said. “The middle school currently has a track, and although we use it a lot, it’s not a regulation-sized track. Now that we will have our own track meets, and are not going to participate in Don Dornon games anymore, we have to start having meets, and would like a regulation-size track. We also hope to provide access points on the west and east, so it could help in getting some of the traffic off the road [during pickup and drop off times].
“A lot of people are concerned that we’re acting like we are going to spend $10 million dollars, but we are definitely not putting ourselves where we are going to have to (spend $10 million) ,” continued Cunningham, who stated there may be a way for the school district to receive money from the state for building the high school. “So much of this is timing. I kept trying to stress that before DD, and now, as I was saying before, we have to get this moving. If there is a chance we still might get the money from the state, then we definitely owe it to our taxpayers to save as much as possible.”
Still, Kunasz is concerned that the end result of building on Gird will end up being more costly for residents.
“The Gird property isn’t good for the school overall,” said Kunasz. “It wouldn’t be the most economical, and if the property requires a smaller campus, we may end up with two high schools in the district. If we were a rich community that could afford that, it might be nice, but a lot of things would be nice.”
Kunasz and other residents were recently asked by the district to look at various properties to recommend and other options for a future high school site.
“Hopefully, we can recommend a property,” said Kunasz. “If people want to voice their opinions, they can write letters to the school district, and each board member has their own email on the district site. People can speak before the board meetings, either for or against the high school. We are a democracy, and we support that.”