CUSD’s properties declared surplus, head for auction

Two pieces of district property, the site of the short-lived La Puerta Intermediate School and the current Service Center site, were declared surplus on Thursday at the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education meeting.

The school board first voted unanimously to ratify the January 17 recommendation of the Surplus Property Advisory Committee, also known as the 7-11 Committee, to declare the La Puerta property surplus. It was an unsurprising decision, given the land, located at 2745 N. Forbes Ave., has been all but abandoned in recent years. 

The board’s unanimous ratification of the 7-11 Committee’s recommendation to declare the Service Center site (3.5 acres located at 700 W. Base Line Rd.) surplus came as more of a surprise, perhaps even to Board Vice President Steven Llanusa.

During the February 7 and February 11 council meetings, Mr. Llanusa had expressed concern about declaring the Service Center surplus while the property was still being used for district operations. He was especially cautious about such a course of action because in the past, 2 alternate Service Center relocation plans had been suggested and ultimately proved unviable.

At the February 11 school board meeting, Service Center Director Cota emphasized that the current Service Center is largely underused, because many aspects of district operation have changed over the years. CUSD no longer has a large fleet of buses, for instance, and the associated mechanics. Grass-cutting and other maintenance of school grounds is now contracted out, eliminating another layer of personnel and equipment. In addition, school supplies like paper bought by the ream—once stored in the warehouse of the Service Center—can now be purchased online and delivered to various school sites with the click of a button.

On February 11, Mr. Cota presented a proposal to build a new, streamlined Service Center on the grounds of San Antonio High School, perhaps as small as 5000 square feet and featuring several large, permanent storage containers. During a PowerPoint presentation in which he displayed a sample schematic for the proposed facility, he emphasized that the San Antonio placement was just one of many options the district would be willing to consider.

While a couple of community members as well as Board Member Hilary LaConte expressed concern that a San Antonio placement would mar beneficial green space at the high school, CUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Lisa Shoemaker asserted that the creation of a new Service Center at the school would actually prove beneficial to the students, because the construction would provide the perfect opportunity to enhance the existing athletic facilities and other aspects at the high school. 

“If you’re going to tear something down and then rebuild it, you may as well make it even better in the process,” she noted after Thursday’s meeting.

Mr. Llanusa seemed to waver once more when the board went to cast their votes regarding the site of the Base Line Road property, but ultimately decided to move forward.

“My preference is to retain the property until Rick Cota’s plan has been put in place. I would like the board’s decision to make sense, not dollars…I don’t know for sure this is a good decision—I hope it is,” he said before adding his approval to the ratification.

The next move for the district will be a 60- to 70-day period of public notice, during which time public agencies will have the first shot at making an offer to CUSD for both the Forbes Avenue and Base Line properties. If no public agency makes an offer that is agreeable to the district, the next step is to put each property up for auction and sell it to the highest bidder.

There had been a sense of urgency with regards to declaring the more contentious Base Line Road property surplus, because there is big money at stake. Last year, homebuilder DR Horton purchased a 4.2-acre site on the southeast corner of Mountain Avenue and Base Line Road, ocated adjacent to the Service Center, for $6.2 million with the aim of creating a housing development there.

At the time, DR Horton told the district that, should the Service Center property ever go up for sale, they would like to purchase it, Ms. Shoemaker said. The purchase of 2 adjoining properties for development makes a great deal of sense for the homebuilder, she said, because it offers economy of scale. The same permits could be used for both properties and, should they belong to the same owner, there would be no need for the kind of setbacks required to separate the land belonging to 2 owners. What’s more, since workers, equipment and materials will already be staged at the first site, it will be easy for them to move on to the second site.

Both Ms. Shoemaker and representatives of the 7-11 Committee, such as local realtor Brad Umansky, cautioned the board that, should they mull too long over declaring the Service Center property surplus, they might miss the window of opportunity to attract DR Horton as a buyer.

—Sarah Torribio





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