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Phil Hof: Will Castaic finally get a high school?

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: July 14, 2010 8:58 p.m.
Updated: July 15, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Residents of Castaic have been promised a high school, and have suffered long school commutes for many years. The entire Santa Clarita Valley voted in bonds to help build that school, but for one reason or another, it has still not been built.

I moved to Castaic eight years ago, hoping my daughters could attend the promised high school here. They have now all graduated, well before a Castaic high school was constructed. But after Wednesday’s meeting of the William S. Hart Union High School District, we all hope that process has begun.

This column was written before the board’s vote, but I wanted to share with you some thoughts on school siting and the environment. As this process moves forward, we have the opportunity to be sensitive to the environment and create a healthy environment for future students.

First the decision about which site to choose will have a significant effect on the environment, and will affect the long-term health of our community and of our children.

As you are undoubtedly aware, our valley suffers some of the worst air pollution in the nation, particularly from ozone.

While our skies are blue because this pollutant is not visible, our children’s lungs are being bombarded with this harmful contaminant. As a result, asthma rates have increased markedly, and inhalers have become a common sight on school grounds.

The site of the school will affect this situation by adding to, or reducing, the length of school commutes and the air pollution they cause. Also, tests show higher air-pollution levels at schools sited near freeways and highways. It is important that the new school site produce the shortest commutes for those attending the school and that the school is sited the farthest distance away from a highway, in order to protect the health of its future students and our community.

Hopefully, the Hart district board also made the positive choice to sustain the future of our community by choosing to investigate a school site that will require the least amount of impact to riparian corridors. Protecting our streams and the Santa Clara River will help to ensure we have an adequate local water supply. By protecting groundwater recharge in these areas, as well as improving water quality by retaining natural vegetation, the school board will be protecting our regional ground water resources.

I hope the board did not base its decision on a development project that may or may not be built in the future. Castaic residents have suffered long enough from the shaky and overleveraged housing construction market. It is time that the board chooses a site that will serve the existing community. After all, they and all of us in Santa Clarita Valley are the ones who have paid for this new school through our taxes and bond approvals.

As the Hart district board moves forward with school construction, I urge it to incorporate “Cool School” concepts and LEED standards in construction.

Use of native plants and trees, especially oaks, (since they must be replaced on the site, anyway), will reduce future water and energy costs.

In our hot climate, as much as 70 percent of water is used on outdoor landscaping. That figure can be reduced to 3 percent by using drought-tolerant, native plants. For more information on attractive, drought-tolerant landscape planning, please visit any of the local water agency or Metropolitan Water District websites.

Careful placement of oaks and other shade trees can substantially reduce energy costs. Other LEED standards, such as solar panels on outdoor lighting and water-heating systems, while perhaps having a higher upfront cost, will reduce energy costs to the district over the long term.

Other LEED standards can be as simple as ensuring that windows are not permanently fixed and can be opened and closed to accommodate temperature changes, thus reducing energy use and energy costs.

I hope the district has chosen the most environmentally sensitive site, considering all the above mentioned issues. I also urge the district to begin now to include LEED standard mitigation through the CEQA process that will follow your site decision.

Such choices will make a difference in the health of the students, the well being of our community and reduce long-term costs to the Hart district.

Phil Hof is a Castaic resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays and rotates among local environmentalists.


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