When angry Normal Heights residents and the planning group began fighting the latest “park” shrinkage at the joint-use Adams Elementary School, they expected some resistance. But, instead, they learned that the joint-use agreement between the city and the San Diego Unified School District had expired.
The school district had already taken the blacktop area (not part of the joint-use agreement) and put portable classrooms on it during the construction of a new school. While they were doing that, the district’s representatives and the planning group had struck an agreement that the construction wouldn’t encroach on the green space at the west end of the L-shaped park and playground, according to Scott Kessler, a planning-group member who also serves as executive director of the Adams Avenue Business Association.
“We had a solemn promise: no encroachment on the green after they took the basketball court and the blacktop,” Kessler said. “What we’re hearing is that bureaucrats from the school district talked to bureaucrats at [San Diego] parks and rec and made a deal without talking to the community.”
The business association has used the area as a stage during the Adams Avenue Street Fair held every September — except for 2017, when the modular classrooms filled the blacktop.
The fencing turned up about three weeks ago in the heavily used park. It is directly behind the Normal Heights Community Center on Hawley Boulevard.
The park is popular and well used by the community. (Disclosure: I know this because I go there.) During daylight hours after the school day ends, there’s often an all-ages group playing soccer on the green. Four seating areas with benches are often full of people visiting, eating, or hanging out with friends and phones. Locals bring dogs there early in the morning and later in the evening.
“This really shows a lack of respect to the many area residents that use the park and shows a lack of proper planning and process on their part,” Kessler said.
The fence cuts off the western quarter of the green area. Some dog owners thought the fencing was to create an off-leash area for their dogs to run, but the heavy construction equipment made ruts in the grass that made such activity risky.
The planning group has worked hard to put parks into the park-starved neighborhood and many of those exist under the joint-use scheme with city schools. The agreement basically says that before and after school, the designated areas are for all the public to access.
The arrangement has theoretically opened space for residents, but the planning group has repeatedly found that the areas are locked up at night. In the past, there has been confusion about whether it’s the parks staff or schools staff that is supposed to unlock the gates.
When planning-group members took their complaints to councilmember Chris Ward and the school district, they decided their first step was to review the agreement. That’s when they learned the agreement had recently expired.
“No one was paying attention and no one let us know,” Kessler said.
Samer Naji of the school district’s facilities management said that the district would like the community to be patient while the long-overdue upgrades to the school are underway. The city was notified that the project was beginning, he said.
“The district did succeed in limiting the staging area to just a small section of the joint-use area, as the majority of the joint-use area is available for community use,” Naji said in a written statement. “We will be working with the city to develop a new joint-use agreement for the site, as the current agreement is expired.”
The school district put out a request for bids with a range of $23 million to $26 million, according to the CaliforniaBids website. The project is described as the “whole site modernization” of the school that opened in 1980, according to the California Department of Education. About 300 students are enrolled. A charter school, San Diego Global Vision Academy, shares the campus.