CARLSBAD — Barely a month after receiving approval for a $449 million bond to pay for districtwide improvements, San Dieguito Union High School District started work on a $16.5 million project to install sports fields and a multipurpose room on a vacant lot in La Costa Valley slated for a middle school.
Work began the second week of January to provide emergency vehicle access to the 22-acre site on Calle Barcelona so La Costa Valley residents can use the lot for jogging or dog walking until construction starts this fall, according to Eric Dill, district associate superintendent of business services.
The plan is to build general purpose sports fields for La Costa Canyon High School junior varsity soccer, lacrosse and field hockey teams to use for practices.
“Everybody is fighting for the same practice space after school,” Dill said. The JV teams are currently using fields at Diegueño Middle School more than 4 miles away.
Dill said baseball and softball diamonds may also be added, but football teams will likely use the school field because it is already properly marked and hauling the heavy equipment for that sport isn’t feasible.
When school teams aren’t using the fields they will be available for community sports. At this point, no lighting is planned, Dill said.
The fields and multipurpose building, which will also be available for community use, are part of a master plan and are sited so they won’t have to be destroyed and rebuilt if enrollment figures indicate a middle school is warranted.
Right now, Dill said, that isn’t the case. “Enrollment in the Encinitas schools has been declining for years,” he said. “We still don’t have the numbers that indicate a need for a middle school there.”
He said it will be at least another seven or eight years, possibly longer, before that happens. “But if the demographics change, we would have the ability to do that.”
He said the goal is to keep enrollment at the district’s two north middle schools, Oak Crest and Diegueño, at 900 or lower. They currently serve 880 and 812 students, respectively.
Dill said enrollment was close to or more than 1,000 in the past during an occasional “bubble year,” when one grade level has an unexpected spike in students.
Proposition AA passed in November with 55.52 percent of the votes. When polls closed Nov. 6 it hadn’t garnered the required 55 percent, but it squeezed by with the necessary votes nearly a month later after absentee and provisional ballots were counted.
The funds will be used to implement a long-range facilities master plan that has been developing since 2008.
It includes upgrading all schools in the 85-square-mile district that stretches from Carlsbad to Carmel Valley, where a new middle school is also planned.
The district bought the land in September 1999 for approximately $5.8 million, when increased development in the area indicated the need for another middle school because Oak Crest and Diegueño were pretty much at capacity.
But enrollment began to flatten and by 2005 SDUHSD officials determined a third middle school in the north was no longer needed.
Approximately 2,450 homeowners in La Costa Valley and some surrounding areas pay into a Mello-Roos account that funds facilities in the north end of the district.
In 2008 a small group of homeowners accused the district of, among other things, misusing the funds and using faulty enrollment projections. They also distributed a flier claiming low-income housing, commercial centers, apartments or industrial parks could be built on the lot.
District officials denied the allegations, including one that the land was going to be sold. An audit cleared SDUHSD of all accusations.
Dill said construction on the fields and multipurpose building should start this fall and take about 16 months to complete. He said teams will probably begin using the fields in the spring of 2015.