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Schools brace for more growth

Posted: October 23, 2008 10:05 p.m.
Updated: December 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Eleventh and final story in "The Big Picture," The Signal's series on plans for growth in the Santa Clarita Valley. Today we look at schools. Click here for the rest of the stories.

When College of the Canyons opened its doors Sept. 22, 1969, Superintendent-President Robert Rockwell was optimistic: He expected about 600 people to sign up for the fall quarter.

The overwhelming turnout was 735 students.

Only afternoon and evening classes were offered that first year of the community college's existence because it was temporarily located on the campus of Hart High School.

But thanks to a generous offer from The Newhall Land and Farming Co., the school moved to its Valencia campus two years later.

With almost non-stop construction over the years, the Valencia campus now serves more than 20,000. A University Center, a library addition and a new two-story administration building are currently in the works.

"I think once those buildings are complete, we'll be built out on the Valencia campus with a maximum capacity of around 25,000," said Scott Wilk, member of the COC Board of Trustees.

One campus just isn't enough. COC opened a second campus in Canyon Country in August 2007, and when that campus in completed in about 2015 it will serve some 10,000 students.

Wilk said the attitude at the college toward growth is like the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

"Our master plan also includes a third location in the valley," Wilk said.

As the valley's population has grown over the years - the valley had fewer than 60,000 residents when the bond measure that created COC passed - keeping up with student needs has been a challenge.

"In terms of growth, we're fairly well positioned for the next 10 years," Hart district Superintendent Jaime Castellanos said.

The William S. Hart Union High School District is prepared for growth on the east side of the valley, but it needs help from the public to relieve already-overcrowded campuses on the west side, Castellanos said.

The Santa Clarita Valley Facilities Foundation, which locates and acquires sites for the district, purchased land for a high school and a junior high site in the Sierra Highway-Vasquez Canyon Road area of Canyon Country in 2007. Recently, the Hart district selected a site for a much-needed high school in the Castaic area to relieve overcrowding at West Ranch and Valencia high schools.

The district placed a $300 million general obligation bond on the Nov. 4 ballot to help fund new construction and modernize some older campuses.

The Saugus Union School District has seen declining enrollment during the past three years after several years of preparing for an explosion of pupils, said Superintendent Judy Fish.

West Creek Elementary School, being built in Valencia in partnership with Newhall Land, is due to be finished in June 2009, but Fish isn't certain of its future.

"We're not sure we'll have enough students to fill that school, so it will be ready, but we haven't made the decision to open it yet." Fish said.

Fish expects development to pick up again when the economy improves, so the Saugus district is

"We have a couple of developments where we have campuses reserved - whether we'll ever use either of those remains to be seen," she said.

The growth of the Newhall School District is also largely dependent upon development in the area. The Whitaker-Bermite property, the North Newhall Specific Plan, the Downtown Newhall Redevelopment Plan and 85 percent of the Newhall Ranch project lie within Newhall district boundaries.

"We've been involved in One Valley, One Vision and one of the things we talk to the city about is: We need at least 10 acres for an elementary school, and that's hard to find in these smaller developments," said Superintendent Marc Winger.

The Sulphur Springs School District has two new schools in the works through partnerships with developers, but Superintendent Robert Nolet doubts that either will be built within the next five years as a result of the recent construction slow-down.


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