ENCINITAS — Some two-and-a-half hours northwest of Encinitas, 40 artists create works of art in studios that once used to be full of arithmetic books and computers, jazz music emanates from a 6,000-square-foot auditorium that used to be filled with the chatter of children and art comes alive throughout the halls of a place where students used to learn.
As Encinitas entertains ideas from the community as to what the short and long-term future of Pacific View Elementary School should be, city officials and stakeholders in the arts community are looking to Camarillo, where Studio Channel Islands provides a rough blueprint for developing the arts-centric vision many have for school site.
Located on Ventura Boulevard in Old Town Camarillo, the arts center occupies the former site of Los Primeros Elementary School, which the Pleasant Valley School District shuttered in 2010 due to budget concerns.
District officials said that Studio Channel Islands, which started on the campus of Cal State Channel Islands before outgrowing its space there, expressed interest in the Los Primeros site shortly after its closure, and entered into a lease arrangement in August 2010.
While it is located in the Old Town area of Camarillo, the school site is zoned residential, so, much like Encinitas will likely have to do, the group had to work through a very limited matrix of uses allowed under the zoning.
Karin Geiger, the executive director of Studio Channel Islands, said the nonprofit has made it work.
“It started slow, but we’ve really become a big attraction in Camarillo because people now know we are there, and people like it because it is a very central location in our county,” Geiger said. “We had to work around the zoning limitations to do so, but we’ve been able to make it work.”
Currently, the arts nonprofit has a five-year lease with the school district, which pays the district $220,000 in space rent annually. The school district has not locked into a long-term lease with the group because the district could still use the site for a school in the future.
“We don’t know if we will need the school or not,” said Catherine Bojorquez, the school district’s chief business official. “We’ve had a lot of new construction in the city and so far we’ve been able to absorb it at the other sites.
“They (Studio Channel Islands) have been interested in a long-term lease, but we’ve opted not to do it, because even though we don’t know if we will need the school district space, we definitely want to have that option,” Bojorquez said.
Geiger said while the temporary nature of the agreement is not ideal, the group makes due.
“As grateful as we are that we are here, the five-year lease is challenging. As we approach major donors, it is always a hurdle,” Geiger said. “And we totally understand that, but it is also our wishes to have a permanent site,” she said.
“A situation like Encinitas has is probably ideal for groups like us,” she said.
This is the most different dynamic between the Camarillo scenario and Encinitas, where the city purchased the property from the school district last year for $10 million. But some locally see a parallel, in that whatever use goes in at Pacific View first is going to be an interim use that could either grow into something permanent or give the city a clearer idea as to what works.
“I think whatever goes in first will do one of two things,” said Jax Meyers, the founder of the group Paint Encinitas. Meyers has been actively following the Pacific View planning process and has championed its use as an arts venue. “It is either going to grow into a more permanent thing and the city will build on it, or it will prove that we should do something different.”
Meyers said she things as the city gets to the point of discussing uses for the site, examples like Studio Channel Islands will become even more important.
“I think it is 100 percent valuable. If you are going to plan an event, it is most likely you are going to reach out to someone who has done something similar before to get that mentorship,” Meyers said. “I think that mentorship makes you better, so when we look at places that are similar, though not necessarily the same situation, it gives us inspiration and makes our ideas and concepts stronger.”
Before the city can determine in detail what the use will be, they must determine how much it will cost to rehabilitate the site to the point it can be used. The city last week hosted a walk through of the site for parties interested in becoming the contract architect for the site, and proposals for that contract are due March 19.
“That is the first step in determining how we would proceed with Pacific View,” Councilman Tony Kranz said. “Until we get to that point, I haven’t really looked at some of the other uses that are out there, but I think that those in the arts community and others interested in the site, they would be well served in looking at examples like this and take advantage of lessons learned elsewhere.”