Chula Vista expects up to 7397 new housing units by 2022, predominantly in the east, but the Sweetwater Union High School District still doesn’t have land or funding for a new high school.
The district currently owns a 27-acre property along Hunte and Eastlake Parkway near the Otay Ranch Town Center. Initially, plans were submitted to the Division of State Architects for a facility that could accommodate grades 7–12. However, when the district presented this at community meetings in late 2015, residents expressed strong opposition.
At a district board meeting on August 28th, assistant superintendent of business services Moises Aguirre asked trustees to authorize modifying and re-submitting plans to the Division of State Architects for exclusively a middle school on the property. Boardmembers unanimously approved. That leaves the district with the need to buy property for either one or two high schools.
The middle-school student population at two eastern Chula Vista Middle Schools has increased only slightly over the past seven years. According to the California Department of Education, since 2010 Eastlake Middle increased student enrollment by 23 students and Rancho Del Rey Middle by 145 students.
Meanwhile, two of the three high schools in southeastern Chula Vista — where housing development has been most intense — have seen significant increases in student enrollment since 2010:
Eastlake High School (built 1992)
• 2010-2011: 2519
• 2016-2017: 3063
• (an increase of 544)
Otay Ranch High School (built 2003)
• 2010-2011: 2721
• 2016-2017: 2413
• (a decrease of 308)
Olympian High School (built 2006)
• 2010-2011: 1732
• 2016-2017: 2610
• (an increase of 878)
Over a two-year period, Olympian High School, the last school built within the district, has seen a jump in enrollment from 2367 to 2610, an increase of 243 students.
It’s hard to tell how many students each high school can accommodate. The district continues to construct portable buildings on the sites, thereby increasing capacity. Each year, the district submits a report to the City of Chula Vista’s Growth Management Oversight Commission, whose purpose is to review development issues. In 2017 the district reported that they planned to install additional re-locatable classrooms, including ten at Eastlake High and six at Olympian High.
Meanwhile, the City of Chula Vista projects 19,852 new units, predominantly in the east, which could bring as many as 65,000 new residents to the region by 2030, according to an Annual Residential Growth Forecast finalized September 1st.
The city’s report also documents the rapid eastern expansion that has already taken place: from 2010 to 2016, Chula Vista had 5809 units built, with 1538 units completed since January 2015 alone; the report forecasts that approximately 2839 housing units will be constructed in eastern Chula Vista by December 2018.
Kim Vander Bie, the associate planner in Chula Vista’s Development Services Department, explained in a phone interview that the California Department of Finance estimates an average of 3.29 persons per household; however, the city historically makes projections that are 50 percent to 75 percent over what will actually come on-line. In addition, developers tend to construct homes in fits and starts based on economic conditions.
Bearing this in mind, the district estimates eastern Chula Vista will add about 3786 high school students, which translates into 1.5 schools. Presenting the need for new schools to district trustees, Aguirre explained that the district needs 52 acres for a new high school, but all the land in eastern Chula Vista has already been spoken for.
Funding also might be an issue, since the district must balance eastern Chula Vista’s needs with repairs and upgrades for older school sites. The district has about 40,000 students attending 13 high schools, 11 middle schools, and 5 adult schools across National City, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, and South San Diego neighborhoods. In 2015, a State of Schools Facilities report determined that the district will need about $710.4 million during the next ten years to maintain and repair existing facilities.
Aguirre estimates a new middle school will cost roughly $108 million and a high school will cost a similar amount, after the purchase of property. He suggests the district will look for a mix of funding, including applying for state funds. California voters approved Proposition 51 in November 2016, a $9 billion bond to fund improvements and construction of school facilities. Aguirre said, “The state has not necessarily released any funding at this point in time. We do anticipate at some point that they will start issuing the bonds.”
In a phone interview with Manuel Rubio, the district’s director of grants and communications, he said trustees have directed staff to start looking into a new bond to place on the 2018 ballot. Local Mello-Roos taxes also will be used, but because high schools have large facility needs such as athletic fields and gymnasiums, these taxes won’t fully cover the costs.
While the district continues to seek solutions, Otay Ranch’s growth may quickly outpace its ability to accommodate student enrollment in eastern Chula Vista. If projections are on target and the housing market remains strong, the city reports that by 2022 — four years from now — eastern Chula Vista will have 7397 new housing units.