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Board to Grapple With Where to Put All Those Kids

Study finds proposed housing could add 13,000 children; the district might need to build as many as 14 new schools.

September 11, 2000|RENEE MOILANEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Swells of children pouring in from new homes in the area could force the Orange Unified School District to build five additional schools by 2006 and as many as 14 new ones if rampant construction continues, according to results of an enrollment-projection study released last week.

If all possible homes in the area are built, the district could see a flood of nearly 13,000 new students in the future--far more than its 39 schools can handle, said the report by Davis Demographics, a Corona-based consultant hired by the district.

Armed with this information, board members now must decide how best to plan Orange Unified's future, whether that means building new schools or enlarging old ones.

"I was alarmed, because I am not sure that we have the ability to marshal the resources to meet these requirements, if, in fact, they are realistic," Trustee Robert Viviano said. "We have a lot of work to do."

Now is the time for the district to buy school sites and to draw up plans for classrooms needed years from now, he added.

If development persists, Orange Unified may need nine new elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools in the future.

"However you slice this matter, you're talking about a heck of an undertaking," Viviano said.

According to the report, the issue is most pressing in East Orange, where impending developments, such as the 1,746-home Santiago Hills Phase II project and the 1,800-home Serrano Heights community, are expected to feed hundreds of new students into schools already at, or over, maximum capacity.

Middle and high schools will suffer the most, as unusually large kindergarten classes from the last five years move through the elementary grades and into secondary schools, the study said.

By 2006, an extra 3,000 teenagers may need classrooms, a jump the district's four high schools cannot accommodate.

"I'm not sure how impacted we'll get, but there's not much room for us to put in portables without getting rid of athletic fields or parking lots," Orange High Principal Bob Lewis said. "It's pretty tight."

With 2,000 students, Orange High is at maximum capacity. About 25 portable classrooms have allowed the school to house almost 500 more students than originally intended, Lewis said.

But over the next seven years, things could get even tighter at Orange High. The large future classes may contribute nearly 600 additional students to the high school by 2006.

Viviano pointed out that the 525-acre Barham Ranch bought by the district earlier this year could become a spot for future schools. Also, some East Orange developments, such as Santiago Hills Phase II, include plans for schools, although none of the schools will be ready in the next seven years.

Trustee Kathy Ward, however, said she is not overly concerned about the anticipated enrollment surge.

There are alternatives to building new schools, she said, from enlarging old ones and adding more portable classrooms to shifting attendance boundaries.

The district also may reopen the former Vista del Rio Junior High School, which now houses fourth- through sixth-graders who have spilled over from overcrowded elementary schools nearby.

"When you take a look at the big picture, it doesn't look as daunting," Ward said.

The district's facilities committee will grapple with the numbers over the next few months and try to come up with solutions. But time is not on the district's side, Viviano pointed out.

"We're going to have to really get on this," he said.

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Renee Moilanen can be reached at (714) 966-4674.

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