Time is running out for Horizon Christian Academy. The K-12 private school that has called 5331 Mt. Alifan Drive home since 1985 has until the end of June to relocate. High Tech High, a K-12 public charter school purchased the property from the San Diego Unified School District in March 2014 for $22.4 million.
As a private school, Horizon charges tuition. As a public charter school, High Tech High does not.
Prior to Horizon, Hale Junior High occupied the site starting in 1959. High Tech High opened up their original campus in Liberty Station (Point Loma) in 1999. They also have campuses in Chula Vista and San Marcos.
According to Paul Dooley, High Tech High facilities director, the purchase was all cash via a benefactor. No word on who that benefactor was, but interesting to note heavy hitter Bill Gates has given them millions in the past.
Kimberley Coulson is the parent of a middle-school student at Horizon. She also lives near the school. “By [High Tech] bidding on a school that is and has been operating for as long as Horizon has is irresponsible and arrogant.”
“Horizon will disappear because we don’t have the funds to find another location. We aren't privy to a loan from the state. We aren’t funded by wealthy private businesses, many of whom want to proliferate their own technological self-interest.”
“So many people want to criticize a Christian school. However, when catastrophic events happen to people personally or societally, if a child goes missing in a family of a non believer, the first thing that parent is doing is praying to God — not The Gates Foundation nor Google — for the safe return of their child.”
Dooley was confronted by another upset Horizon parent at the March 8 Clairemont planning subcommittee meeting. Mary Simpson spoke passionately about the plight of Horizon students and how it seemed to be too much about the money and too little about the children.
Dooley explained to Simpson that Horizon had the chance to negotiate with the school district before it went out to public bid. He said that High Tech High’s CEO visited Horizon’s pastor and offered to not bid if they were going to. According to Dooley, the pastor said he had no plans to bid and even said: “we’re praying that you get it.”
According to the school district, when they officially decided to sell the property in March 2013, they entered into negotiations with Horizon. When nothing came of it, they put out a public bid in October 2013. The highest bid was $23.52 million from a housing developer. When that fell through, it went to the second highest bidder, High Tech High.
Per 2014 school district documentation, the property was declared in excess back in 1984. The document lists other school properties including another former Horizon school site (4520 Pocahontas) that was also sold in 2014, this time to housing developers for $13.2 million.
Dooley continued to explain to Simpson that when High Tech High was offered the chance to buy the school, they again went to Horizon’s pastor and again got his blessing. He pointed out that they reduced Horizon’s rent by $4 million to help them in finding a new location. According to school district documentation, Horizon paid the school district approximately $1.5 million annually.
Dooley brought his point home by saying, “A lot of time has gone by and quite frankly we’ve bent over backwards to help. Horizon went into this negotiation and signed the deal. We didn’t have a gun to their head, they had their eyes wide open, and I’m sorry that time has run out but that’s where we are.”
Michelle Washburn is the parent of children that have attended both Horizon and High Tech High. She said while she is heartbroken that Horizon is pretty much defunct, all three of her children currently attending High Tech High love it.
High Tech High has started the city permitting process. A public notice went out in March with a public hearing notice to follow.
Per Dooley, the plan is to refurbish eight of the ten existing buildings. He said while they look nice on the outside, “inside they are very 1959.” The elementary and middle schools will go into existing structures while the kitchen/cafeteria and locker room buildings will be demolished and replaced with a two-story building for the high school. Dooley confirmed nothing taller than what is there now will go in.
The existing football field will be turned 90 degrees to allow students to use the field without crossing the parking lot. Dooley said that they don’t have a football team, so the field will likely be redrawn for lacrosse and soccer. There are no plans to rent out the field to the public.
Dooley said the field reconfiguration will allow for a longer drop-off area for parents. To avoid congestion, start and stop times will be staggered for different grades. Per Dooley, the city requires 210 parking spaces, but they plan to provide 385. He said this should be more than enough parking on a daily basis. The only time there might be spillover is on those nights when they have events to show projects.
The school has a hands-on educational approach that has students learning by doing projects. Dooley also touted the benefit of them not using bells or buzzers like other schools.
There will be changes surrounding the school property. Dooley said that Mt. Alifan will be widened by seven to ten feet to allow for a bike lane. The city is requiring additional traffic signals.
Dooley said the most unique aspect of the new campus will be the existing theater and athletic field since other campuses don’t have these amenities.
The budget is approximately $45 million. Dooley said funding from Prop 51 will be sought. Bonds are on the table if the latter falls through.
The principal of Horizon, Cathy Dobbs, said Horizon isn’t doing interviews at this time. When I spoke to Dobbs in October, she told me that a realtor had been searching for a new location for three years. She said the zoning was making it hard to find a new home.