A Tale of Two School Districts

(Printable email release)

As part of a 2012 reorganization of school districts, Fallbrook Union High School District (FUHSD) transferred a surplus site on Gird Road (which it had declared “unsuitable” for a high school due to its topography, mitigation costs and location) to the newly formed Bonsall Unified School District (BUSD) which has a main campus 8 miles to the south (7350 W Lilac Rd, Bonsall, CA 92003), one mile west of Interstate 15.

Between the two locations is the 4-lane Highway 76, running 53 miles west from I-5 in Oceanside east to Pauma Valley where it terminates at SR79.

It is important to note that FUHSD lost four bond measures to fund building on that particular site before it passed into BUSD’s ownership. Clearly the community was united in its opposition to a school in historic and much-loved Gird Valley. In November of 2016, BUSD would lose the fifth attempt.

BUSD made various statements about the site over the years, ranging from building a small school of a few hundred students to selling or trading the property.

In 2016, BUSD announced it would build a beautiful $56M to $70M state-of-the-art permanent high school and would pass a bond measure to do so (Measure DD on the Fall 2016 ballot). The school would serve 1,500 students, 60 teachers plus administrators, staff and parents. Its recreational facilities and performing arts center would be open after hours to the public.

Beyond North County residents who have proven they are strongly opposed to a high school on Gird Road, parents with children enrolled at BUSD’s Sullivan Middle School campus (located 8 miles to the south) expressed dislike for the location.

BUSD stated its proposed high school/performing arts center development would consist of 150,000 sq. ft. of buildings plus 190,000 sq. ft. of parking, another 10,000 sq. ft. of bus parking, plus night lighting. The project, we are told, would impact approximately 24.6 of the 48-acre Gird Road site.

A detailed project description states:

The Bonsall High School plus Performing Arts Center would provide educational facilities for grades 9– 12 with a maximum enrollment of 1,500 students. An estimated 50-60 teachers, aides, administrators, and other personnel would staff the high school at maximum capacity. The proposed project build out would result in approximately 140,000 – 150,000 square feet (sf) of building area, which would include permanent classroom facilities, administrative offices, media centers, and the Performing Arts Center (Figure 3, Project Plan Map). Recreational fields and facilities which will include community use are also proposed. The school site will also provide access to dance, band, exercise, and physical educational programs using the on-site fields.

The proposed facilities and approximate building areas are provided below:

  • Performing Arts Center Theater and Music Classroom-33,500 to 16,000 sf
  • Administration-6,750 sf
  • Classrooms-48,500 sf to 28,000 sf each, 84,000 sf total
  • Media Centers/Library-5,760 sf 6,500 sf
  • Food Services and Multipurpose Dining-10,000 sf 11,000 sf
  • Recreational fields-19.8 Acres
  • Parking Lot and hardscapes (approx. 500 parking spaces)- 190,000 sf
  • Bus Parking (5–8 bus spaces)-10,000 sf
  • Gymnasium, lockers and support functions–19,500 to 25,000 sf
  • Separate exercise rooms (part of the proposed gym)-3,000 sf

In addition, a parking area for school buses would be included on the project site, contiguous to staff and student parking areas within appropriate portion of the school site for this purpose. Initially, it is anticipated that four (4) buses would use this parking area. Capacity would be provided for up to twelve (12) for special events or future busing needs.

The recreational fields, Performing Arts Center, and other school buildings would be available for community use after school hours, weekends, and holidays. Security lighting of the building complex and parking areas is planned. Night lighting of the hard court surfaces is being considered.

At an estimated cost of $56.5M to $70M, this would be the largest development ever in Gird Valley, possibly in all of Fallbrook. It deserves a closer look by everyone involved, especially since any high school on Gird Road is a very unpopular project.

Measure DD failed passage in the Fall of 2016, marking fully five separate bond measures to build a high school on Gird Road that have been rejected by the voters at the ballot box!

Beyond the taxpayers who ultimately pay for all this, there are various agencies with jurisdiction over segments of this proposed project.

San Diego County has severely limited jurisdiction over school construction. For example, while a privately owned Performing Arts Center would require a Special Use Permit review for its impact on the neighborhood, issuance subject to the County’s authorization, one attached to a school site does not. The County does, however, have jurisdiction over the site as it relates to traffic, storm drains, power, water and sewer hookups. All this work does require a County Building Permit.

The California Department of Education (CDE) sets standards for school sites with which the District must comply if it expects to receive any funding from California taxpayers via the CDE. (See Table 6.) To serve 1,500 students, BUSD is required to provide 38.7 acres at the minimum.

BUSD has ordered a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) study to be completed in the fall of 2017. Most schools wait on the results of this report before moving forward with any building contracts but not BUSD. Even worse, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (Warren Wong, CDFW, 858-627-3997), the CDF&W is not the Lead Agency on the CEQA report. The Lead Agency on the CEQA report for the BUSD is the BUSD.

The State of California’s Department of General Services’ (DGS)  Office of Public School Construction (OPSC) is also involved (including tasked with determining need for a school) along with the Division of the State Architect’s (DSA) office(South Team/Ron LaPlante, 858-674-5461) which will review the plans, when they are finally submitted, for compliance with the building code by only in three specific areas: structural, fire and access.

With all these agencies watching out for the public good and with BUSD ensuring us of their commitment to quality and community, one would think we could be assured of a quality project for the school children IF the Gird Road site is ever actually built on.

Think again.

On December 8, 2016, just after losing its $58M bond funding Measure DD in November, the BUSD Board approved a $20M construction/financing contract that would have resulted in portable buildings on the Gird Road site! Add in builder-provided financing and BUSD had committed to pay $45M (with $44M of that due within  12.25 years with monthly payments of $300,000) for temporary buildings that would have to be removed and replaced in a few years!

Only concerned North County residents and a lawsuit by public advocacy group CalTAN.org stopped this tragedy from happening.

Because a high school is forever, the choice of the correct site, and what is built thereon, is a community-changing event.

For this reason and to assist you, we have compiled an historical backgrounder, complete with hyperlinked resource documents. We are calling it:
We hope you find it useful and we encourage everyone who loves San Diego, our beautiful Gird Valley and our school children, to engage on this issue. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Teresa Platt
Steering Committee Member