Above: Cardiff Elementary School. File photo
ENCINITAS — The Cardiff School District leadership has publicly called on opponents of its campus redesign project to drop their lawsuit in an open letter on its website.
The missive, dated May 15, is addressed to Eleanor Musick, Daniel Littrell and Tricia Smith, three of the most vocal opponents of the district’s proposal, which includes the construction of new buildings and a new multi-purpose room and outdoor terrace-style seating on land that is currently part of the district-owned George Berkich Park.
The trio spearhead a group called Save the Park and Build the School, which filed a lawsuit in March to force the district to suspend the project until it performs a more stringent environmental study.
In the letter, the district states that delaying the project will cost the district at least $1 million and threatens the project’s timeline.
“The initial site grading and utility work must be completed this summer because the power to the site must be completely shut down, reworked, and then restored before students return in the fall,” the letter states. “If this work is not undertaken this summer, it will delay the Project one full year until next summer when another window for the site utility work can be completed.”
“To absorb any further delay to the Project will not only deprive Cardiff students of timely access to much needed safe, secure, and modernized school facilities, but it will also result in the substantial loss of Measure GG funds resulting from construction cost escalation,” the letter states. “This loss could total over One Million Dollars ($1,000,000) or more if the Project were to be fully delayed for one year and would undoubtedly result in the loss of certain school improvements from the Project scope. This loss to the students of Cardiff is completely unnecessary and unacceptable.”
Cardiff School District officials have been working on the campus overhaul since 2016, when voters passed Measure GG, a $22 million bond measure.
George Berkich Park’s baseball field would be eliminated under the proposal, and the district would join the two grass fields, currently separated by playground equipment, to create a longer, contiguous field that could be host to two simultaneous soccer matches.
The district needs the approval of both the state and National Park Service for the project’s second phase because of a 1993 federal grant agreement that requires the park remain in perpetuity unless the agencies endorse a boundary change. That agreement requires the district to replace the lost park land with a corresponding amount of land.
School district officials have proposed redrawing the boundary to include the school’s parking lot, which would double in size in the new plan, as well as opening the school’s garden for community use.
Cardiff’s project passed muster with the Encinitas Planning Commission by a 3-0 vote (commissioner Brett Farrow abstained and Bruce Ehlers was absent), but the group appealed the decision to the City Council, which is expected to hear the appeal May 22.
The current proposal splits the project into two phases: Phase 1 includes the demolition and construction of eight buildings on campus, while Phase 2 — the multipurpose room, expanded parking lot and boundary adjustment — would be contingent upon City Council, state and federal approval.
The district called the appeal and lawsuit meritless.
“If this is truly (the group’s) intent (to not prevent renovation) the District hopes you will take immediate action to further this goal,” the letter concludes. “Accordingly, the District hereby requests that you and STPBTS reconsider your lawsuit and appeal and instead take an action that puts students ahead of other interests by withdrawing these meritless legal pursuits.”
Musick responded by calling the school district’s letter “inappropriate.”
“It was shockingly inappropriate,” Musick said. “In that the lawsuit was not brought by us as individuals, it was brought by an organization. The school knows our individual contact information if they wanted to contact us and discuss it with us, they also know the association attorneys. This is an attempt at public shaming, that’s why I think it’s shockingly inappropriate.”