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Castaic high needs unity

Posted: July 15, 2009 10:14 p.m.
Updated: July 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

If Castaic wants a high school, the entire community — residents, businesses and elected officials — have got to stand with the Hart school district to help make it happen, Superintendent Jaime Castellanos said Wednesday.

“I’ve gone as far as I can go,” a frustrated Castellanos told The Signal in an interview. “Now I need the support of the (Castaic Area) Town Council and the community to make this happen.”

Reacting to Castellanos’ statement, Town Council President Steve Teeman painted the elected body’s role as information distributor, rather than site advocate.

Teeman, who is also on the Castaic Union School District board, said the Town Council is there for “providing the means by which the community can come out and express their thoughts and opinions.

“And should we have additional information that we can provide the community,” he said, “we will certainly do so.”

However, last fall the Town Council endorsed the William S. Hart Union High School District’s choice of the Sterling-Gateway property bordering the Commerce Center. After half a year spent assessing the property for school suitability, the Hart district abandoned it due to objections from nearby businesses.

The district, which provides junior and senior high schools throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, has spent nearly a decade hunting for a site in Castaic.

Castaic students now attend West Ranch and Valencia high schools, which are seriously overcrowded, Castellanos said.

Whatever site is next selected, Castellanos said, “I need to have the community and Town Council solidly behind it.”

That means having representatives from the Town Council at outreach meetings with the community when a preferred site is identified.           

“They’re going to have to be right there with us,” Castellanos said.

Teeman said members of the Town Council have attended meetings initiated by the Hart district in the past and, if invited, they will attend them in the future.

“It’s important for us to find out what those location considerations are and then invite the community to offer input on those locations,” he said.

The district is now looking at several sites that had been considered earlier, including the Ion Property, Romero Canyon, Hasley Sloan, Lombardi property and a residential property near the Sterling-Gateway site.

The Hasley Sloan site is being considered because the Santa Clarita Valley Facilities Foundation owns the site, and building there would save the district money, Castellanos said. The foundation buys property on behalf of the school district.

The Hart district withdrew its plans to build a high school at Hasley Sloan in 2002 following an outcry from residents, who said a high school would increase traffic, jeopardize student safety and disrupt the neighborhood’s rural aspects.

Castaic Area Town Council member Flo Lawrence said he understands that some parts of the community may be disrupted by the addition of a high school, but said there were greater concerns to consider.

“There are going to be neighbors or neighborhoods that aren’t going to be happy,” Lawrence said, regarding site selection. “The needs of our children outweigh any objections.”

If it wasn’t for the opposition, the high school would have been built and ready by now, Castellanos said Wednesday.

He said he does not consider the proposed Castaic Mesa location to be viable because a nearby chlorination plant could be dangerous.

The district now hopes to have a Castaic high school ready by 2013, Castellanos said.

If the council and community work with the Hart district in locating a site, Castellanos hopes that by the end of 2009, they can get a “solid” school site and begin negotiations with the property owner, he said.

Castaic Area Town Council member Vanessa Brookman said the council and the district had the same goal for Castaic, assuming there was a suitable site.

“We’ve done nothing but support a high school in Castaic — in the proper location,” Brookman said.

Castellanos said the down economy has put him in that much of a hurry to find a home for Castaic high school.

“The bid climate is great right now,” he said.

The district has a $300 million bond, Measure SA, that voters passed in November for construction of a Castaic high school.

Upon opening, the high school would hold between 1,500 and 1,600 students, incoming ninth- and tenth-graders, with enrollment growing as the district adds grades and the economy turns around, he said.

Despite criticism, Castellanos said the district and its board are focused on making Castaic high school a reality.

“I believe we have done everything we can to make that happen,” he said. “We are committed to it. It’s a matter of when and where.”



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