CARLSBAD — A once-controversial vacant lot in La Costa Valley could be turned into high school and community sports fields that would eventually be part of a middle school slated for the site if and when the campus is built.The 22-acre lot on Calle Barcelona is owned by SDUHSD, (San Dieguito Union High School District), which serves about 12,000 middle and high school students who live in an 85-square-mile area that stretches from Carlsbad to Carmel Valley.The district bought the land in September 1999 for approximately $5.8 million. At the time steady development in the area indicated the need for another middle school because Oak Crest and Diegueño, which serve students in the north section of the district, 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. They removed a sign that had been placed on the lot by developers.
Approximately 2,450 homeowners in La Costa Valley and some surrounding areas pay into community facilities district 94-2, a Mello-Roos account that funds facilities in the north end of the district. About 2,000 homeowners pay $800 per year and 465 pay $400 annually.
According to the 1994 funding and mitigation agreement, CFD 94-2 funds can only be spent to “purchase, construct, expand, improve and/or rehabilitate” Oak Crest and Diegueño middle schools, San Dieguito High School Academy, La Costa Canyon and Sunset high schools, adult education and continuation high school facilities and a new junior high school in south Carlsbad (La Costa Valley).
In 2008 a small group of homeowners calling themselves Friends of North County 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.
At about the same time a long-range facilities master plan got under way for the entire district. After evaluating enrollment figures and all sites, districtwide improvements totaling about $450 million were identified.
Among them is a $15 million project to install sports fields, a parking lot and a building that would be part of the overall middle school campus for the La Costa Valley site, said Eric Dill, associate superintendent of business services.
The fields would be used for practices for junior varsity and freshman teams such as soccer and baseball, but not football or track, from nearby La Costa Canyon High School.
“Teams are fighting for fields,” Dill said. “The ancillary benefit is that (the fields) would be available to the community when they’re not in use by students.”
Lighting is not planned so the fields couldn’t be used at night after dark.
“We do not light up our middle school fields, so you would not see stadium lights at that location,” Dill said. “The fields will be on both the lower and upper pads (west and east, respectively) with the parking lot on the upper pad on the northwest side of the lot.”
The district may also construct a building which would later serve the school but that could be used for community events in the meantime, Dill said.
There is currently no funding for that or any other project in the facilities master plan. Money from CFD 94-2 has been used mostly to modernize Oak Crest, Diegueño, San Dieguito High School Academy and La Costa Canyon.
The district is working to place a $420 million bond on the November ballot to fund the new improvements.
If it makes it and passes, development of the La Costa Valley site could begin in summer 2013 because it is one of the easiest, least expensive projects in the plan, Dill said.
Beginning in 2006, SDUHSD was assessed about $100,000 for an unused site fee, which is much like property tax for homeowners, because the lot wasn’t being used for anything.
A few years later La Costa Canyon began using it for a special education environmental studies lab and the district was no longer subject to the fine. It was also determined the state made an error calculating when the fee kicked in so the district was reimbursed about $200,000.
Although current enrollment figures still don’t indicate the need for a third middle school in the area, Dill said there are no plans to sell the property.
“The conceptual plans are to use it for a middle school,” he said. “We plan to retain the site and use it for that purpose in the future.”
The entire facilities master plan will be available on the district website at http://sduhsd.net in a month or two, Dill said.
To view the layout of the La Costa Valley plan go to http://sduhsd.net/assets/pdfs/minutes/2011_2012/11-17-11_facilities_update.pdf.