by Julie Thunder
(Above) Conceptual aerial view of new plan
After overcoming months of setbacks, the Cardiff School District is scheduled to begin the rebuild of its original campus on Montgomery Avenue this June. Cardiff Elementary serves roughly 350 students in kindergarten through third grade and has been operating for more than 100 years. The majority of the existing school buildings are 58-70 years-old and will be rebuilt according to the District’s Master Plan, which was approved by the School Board early last year. The funding for this project comes from Measure GG, a $22 million General Obligation Bond passed by voters in November 2016, combined with other District funds.
Last year, after numerous community input meetings and design compromises, the School Board approved the new design. But, a group of neighbors and community members, who were unhappy with the placement of the multipurpose room and the parking configuration, met with District officials and threatened to take action to stop the project. As a result, the District performed a full environmental impact report, delaying the project schedule by several months. The final EIR was recently presented at a public School Board meeting and showed there are no significant environmental impacts. The Board voted to certify the District’s EIR.
The project could be further set back because the opposition group is now asking City of Encinitas officials to delay it based on a Land and Water Conservation Grant obtained in 1993 when both the City and the District worked together to improve the fields for the City’s recreational programs use. The grant amount was a one-time payment of $160,000 and was given by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The opposition claims that the new design will take away open space that was promised to be held in perpetuity for outdoor recreational use as a part of the LWCF grant agreement because the design shows a new multipurpose building and additional parking being placed within the original LWCF boundary.
(Above) During the EIR public comment period, the school district received approximately 60 letters showing both opposition and support of the new plan. Click to expand the comments.
The land in question that lies within the 1993 LWCF boundary is the property of the Cardiff School District. There are no deed restrictions or easements tied to this land and the District pays for all utilities and maintenance without support from the City. On weekends and after school hours, the District makes this space available to the community for public recreation. The District named the school’s play fields and hardcourt areas “George Berkich Park” after a former Cardiff School Principal.
In 2002, when parts of Cardiff School were renovated, the LWCF grant agreement, although still in place, had been archived and no institutional knowledge of it was present during planning and construction. Two new buildings were built, and unbeknownst to the District or City, one building was placed within the LWCF boundary, thereby putting both the City and the District out of compliance with the original terms of the grant agreement.
Early last year, the District contacted the state agency that administers the grant on behalf of the National Park Service (NPS), the Office of Grants and Local Services (OGALS). OGALS explained that the terms of the grant allow changes to be made to the original boundary and the agency has been guiding the District through the process to regain compliance. The District has recently proposed a new boundary that creates 7,000 more usable square feet of space available for outdoor use, including additional picnic areas, a longer contiguous play field and outdoor seating for viewing of sporting activities. During preliminary reviews, OGALS expressed that many of these boundary changes were viewed as enhancements to the recreational space.
In a recent Encinitas City Council meeting, opponents of the project expressed their continued concerns and asked that the issue
The District and City staff have been engaged in the permit process and the boundary adjustment and expect that these items will be discussed at a future City Council meeting. Ultimately the District and the City will both need to sign off on the boundary adjustment to complete the OGALS process.