San Diego High will stay in Balboa Park for another century

San Diego officials have officially signed a contract that will keep the city’s oldest public high school on a dedicated park for another century.

On Tuesday, city council members unanimously approved a new 99-year lease for the San Diego High School, which means the educational facility is to stay in its 34-acre home on the outskirts of Balboa Park until 2123.

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The action, which has been brewing for years, paves the way for San Diego’s Unified School District, which will pay nothing to rent property, to start work on $ 74 million in upgrades to classrooms, quads and the facade of the school.

“I also understand that this type of rental agreement is unique. This is where two government agencies are making a new agreement for the use of the land where San Diego High School has been operating for hundreds of years, ”said City Councilor Raul Campillo. “It’s really important to note that in 2016 Measure I was passed overwhelmingly by voters, and this gave the board the direction to assess this lease today, not just in terms of dollar value. , but also for the good of the public. ”

San Diego High, located at 1405 Park Boulevard, opened as Russ School in 1882. At the time, city officials allotted, but did not legally transfer, a 5-acre parcel of land on the borderline. south of Balboa Park for the region’s first high school. . The school’s footprint has grown significantly over the years and includes Balboa Stadium, the former home of the San Diego Chargers. And its presence in a dedicated park – where the courts have said schools do not belong – has been disputed for decades.

In 1974, the school district sued to take possession of the site through a prominent domain claim. The parties subsequently entered into a court-approved lease agreement with San Diego Unified, requiring it to pay $ 10,000 and transfer its rights to the land in 2024, at the end of its 50-year term. In 2016, a new lease was made possible by voters who categorically accepted an amendment to the charter to allow continued use of the land by the school.

Under the new lease, the district will transfer ownership of two properties, valued at a combined $ 3.8 million, to the city. The largest plot consists of 11.73 acres in the southwestern part of Camp Elliott, near Mission Trails Park in Tierrasanta. The second property is a 0.39 acre site already used by the city for the Logan Memorial Pool.

Otherwise, the district said it is committed to spending double-digit millions on campus modernization. The San Diego Unified School District school board is expected to approve a contract of up to $ 74 million for phase one improvements this month, board chairman Richard Barrera told the Union-Tribune. Construction will begin immediately thereafter, he said.

In recent months, opponents have challenged the legality of circumventing the requirements of the 1974 lease and questioned the terms of the new contract which seem too favorable to the district. Others urged council members to contractually oblige the district to participate in a joint planning effort that would see a better connection established between the school and the rest of Balboa Park – or, at the very least, slow down the process. approval process.

“I will not go into the question of the legality (of the lease) …. There is an old adage, however, that when things are done in the dark you grow mushrooms, ”self-proclaimed park advocate René Smith said during the public comment portion of the meeting. (There have been) 50 years of working on this lease and the potential to move, and we are suddenly confronted in public with (school renovation) designs that seem almost complete.

Council members took up the matter without debate. They voted to approve the lease as part of the meeting’s consent agenda, meaning some chose to comment, but the organization did not actively discuss the terms of the lease. Those who spoke celebrated the agreement and congratulated the many San Diego High School students who called to share their testimony.

Councilor Joe LaCava secured a verbal commitment from Barrera to work collaboratively with the city and City College on a better design for Park Boulevard.

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