Sale of La Puerta site yields nearly $19 million for CUSD

At the November 21 meeting of the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education, the board approved the sale of a large parcel of surplus property, the site of the short-lived La Puerta Intermediate School. The property, some 9.7 acres located at 2475 N. Forbes Ave., fetched $18,875,000 from the highest bidder, Brandywine Homes of Irvine, California.

As was reported in a July 2004 COURIER, a low concentration of arsenic was detected a number of years ago under the soil at La Puerta. At that time, CUSD had intended to use the building for a future elementary school, but plans were scrapped when higher-than-expected bids for projects came in during the spending of Measure Y dollars. The arsenic was removed in July 2004 in an area spanning 50 feet wide, 70 feet long and about three feet deep. The arsenic apparently developed some time in the 1960s when orchards and above-ground water tanks were plentiful in the area, according to geologist Henry Ames.

Board member Steven Llanusa, who was attending a conference of the California School Boards Association in San Diego, spoke via phone to the COURIER yesterday about the sale.

“I think the large amount of money paid for the La Puerta site is a reflection of cooperation and hard work by the district staff,” he said. “I also think it’s a reflection of the value people place on living in Claremont, because the developers bidding were homebuilders.

“They are willing to pay top dollar for land in Claremont because they know people are willing to pay top dollar for homes in Claremont,” Mr. Llanusa continued. “And a lot of that may well be due to the quality of Claremont schools.”

The sale capped off a recent trend within the district of selling surplus property for increasing amounts of money to parties intent on home development. 

In February of 2012, the old CUSD district office on Mountain Avenue was sold to homebuilder D.R. Horton for $6.2 million. In June of 2013, the district’s service center on Baseline Avenue was sold for $7 million, also to D.R. Horton. In total, the district has yielded more than $32 million in property sales in a little less than two years.

Escrow recently closed for the district office property. The service center is still in escrow, and the process has just begun for the La Puerta site. Nonetheless, CUSD is preparing to form an advisory committee to make suggestions on how the funds should be spent.

There are some restrictions on how money from the property, which will go into the district’s capital fund, can be spent, Mr. Llanusa noted, adding that all expenditures must receive board approval. The board has already voted to dedicate a portion of the money to finish paying for the construction of Claremont High School’s Don P. Fruechte Theatre for the Performing Arts, which celebrated its grand opening at the end of March.

Money still owed includes a $1.5 million bridge loan the district extended toward the Theatre Renovation Project to supplement a $1.5 million matching Career and Technical Education grant from the State Allocation Board, minus $800,000 raised by CHS theater boosters. 

The CHS theater department has been thriving with the help of its new venue, noted CHS theater director Krista Elhai. The annual FOOT (Friends of Our Theatre) Auction held earlier this month at the Candlelight Pavilion “went great,” Ms. Elhai shared, garnering full houses and earning $13,000. That money will be used to fund the theater department’s last production of the year, Shrek, which will hit Bridges Auditorium on May 30 and 31, and to send students to the California State Thespian Festival in Upland in March.

—Sarah Torribio


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