SANTA ANA — A controversial proposal to construct an innovative, "space-saver" school here has been dealt another blow with a finding by state officials that the site chosen for the project was not properly appraised.
A report prepared by state real estate officials concludes that the appraisals of the selected site, which is in a section of the Bristol MarketPlace shopping center, are not valid, one of its authors said Saturday.
Frank Harding, a state real estate expert who works for the Office of Local Assistance, said appraisals submitted to the state by the Santa Ana Unified School District were improper because they did not include price comparisons from other, similar properties.
Harding said a major unanswered question for state officials involved the extent of ground water contamination at the shopping center site.
"That was one of the problems," he said. "We review the appraisals for the acquisition of sites for school property, but in this case, we did not have any information of similarly contaminated property to compare them with."
The appraisal issue was the latest setback for the novel project, which has been mired in controversy, in part because of residents and officials who said the district did not give adequate consideration to cheaper sites. The State Allocation Board has set aside $23 million to purchase the shopping center site at Bristol and 17th streets.
Donald G. Champlin, the district's interim superintendent, said Saturday he feared the new questions would further delay construction of the school, which is needed to ease serious overcrowding in the district.
"I was not aware of this problem at all," Champlin said. "The Allocation Board has already taken action on this, and I hope they will go forward with their earlier decision. We need the site and a school there as quickly as possible."
Space-saver schools are built vertically, instead of horizontally, so they take up less space in crowded urban neighborhoods. Such schools are designed to avoid the need to condemn property to create new campuses.
Harding said his report, which will be considered at a Nov. 30 meeting of the Allocation Board, recommended that the board ask for another appraisal of the site, which would be the fourth.