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Projects San Diego Unified Wants to Fund With New Multibillion-Dollar Bond Look Familiar

Many of the projects being proposed as part of a new $3.5 billion school bond being floated by San Diego Unified are identical to those promised in previous measures.

An $11 million stadium and athletic fields at Mission Bay High were paid for with bond funds. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

Many of the projects being proposed as part of a new $3.5 billion school bond being floated by San Diego Unified are identical to those promised in previous measures.

On top of projects already listed in previous bonds, there are a few additions that signal the district wants stronger legal footing to pursue projects already in the works. Among them: swimming pools, a new district administration center, stadium lights and replacing artificial turf fields, records posted by the district late Friday show.

If approved by at least 55 percent of voters, the 2018 measure would be the third such multibillion-dollar bond benefiting city school facilities in the last decade.

According to a proposal heading to the Board of Trustees Tuesday night, homeowners would pay an extra 6 cents for every $100 of assessed home value, or $300 for a $500,000 home, as first reported by the Union-Tribune. The district estimates the new tax will raise $193 million annually for 39 years.

What’s the money for? “Classrooms in need of repair; Need for stronger safety measures to protect students; Career-oriented classrooms and campuses; Goal of providing students the cleanest drinking water in the nation,” district records say.

San Diego Unified is already in the midst of a massive school bond program funded by Props. S and Z, totaling $2.1 billion and $2.8 billion, respectively. To date, the district has spent more than $1.7 billion of those dollars.

That has funded new classroom buildings, built a new school and paid for new athletic facilities and technology. But despite spending $1.7 billion bond dollars since 2008, the district has struggled to improve the overall condition of the district’s buildings.

Some bond-funded projects have not stood the test of time, including an array of artificial turf fields and personal technology devices replaced every few years.

Courts also found the district illegally spent millions of bond dollars on stadium lights after a local group of residents sued.

Other projects put front and center in old ballot measures, like asbestos removal, took a back seat when it came to actually spending bond money.

But over the last year, district officials confronted the dangers of old plumbing when lead was found in the water at several schools, including Emerson-Bandini Elementary in Mountain View.

Despite promising to replace old plumbing in both the 2008 and 2012 bond measures, the district hadn’t yet done so at Emerson, and instead spent $1.7 million on a wireless network and turf field for the campus.

Plumbing replacement for Emerson makes a repeat appearance on the proposed 2018 bond project list.

So do numerous other projects.

A summary of projects to be built at each or any school site contains some language pulled verbatim from past measures. They include things like: “Repair or replace deteriorating plumbing and underground sewer systems;” “Remove, remediate and abate asbestos, mold, and other potentially dangerous substances;” “Expand or develop joint-use athletic facilities;” “Remove or replace old or inadequate buildings with new facilities” and “Remove excess portable classroom buildings to reduce utility and maintenance costs.”

Other projects reappear on the 2018 bond list in a slightly modified form.

For instance, the 2018 bond will “Repair or replace roof systems,” whereas the 2012 bond pledged to “Repair or replace aging, leaky roofs.” The 2018 bond will “Improve or expand visual and performing arts facilities and classrooms,” whereas the 2012 bond aimed to just “Improve visual and performing arts facilities.”

Several items in the new bond language stand out, though. And some could give the district stronger legal ground to proceed with projects that it already planned.

The 2018 bond explicitly mentions money will be spent to “Install, renovate or replace athletic field and stadium lighting.”

The addition should help the district avoid future legal challenges like the one from residents near Hoover High School, who successfully claimed the district didn’t adequately disclose stadium lights in past bond measures.

Artificial turf fields have also been a big part of San Diego Unified’s bond program, despite the fact that some fields costing $500,000 to $600,000 each deteriorated not long after they were installed, and needed to be replaced, or repaired with thousands of gallons of glue.

The 2018 bond would “Replace or resurface track and turf surfaces as needed,” district records show.

Swimming pools have also been planned for years as part of a Pools for Schools initiative that envisions local YMCA sites operating and maintaining the pools. Some pools would be built on school campuses, while others would be built at nearby YMCAs. Pools faced legal vulnerabilities similar to the stadium lights, and residents threatened to sue over the use of bond dollars to fund them.

Now, the district wants to spend 2018 bond money to “Construct recreational and swimming facilities, including for joint-use with other public agencies and public benefit non-profit entities,” the bond project list says.

Another standout entry: money to “Acquire property for, design and construct new school administrative facilities and/or renovate existing school administration center facilities.”

Earlier this year, the district sought proposals for a land swap, in which it would trade its existing district headquarters and two other properties – 22 acres in all – for another site to house new headquarters. A local attorney believed the deal would run afoul of state bidding laws, but the district felt otherwise, and proceeded to review proposals. None of them was suitable.

The board rejected all land swap proposals on May 29, district spokeswoman Maureen Magee said.

The new bond could pay for a new or improved district administration center at its current site or elsewhere.

A high-level breakdown of how the district wants to spend the $3.5 billion can be seen here.

School board trustees will officially consider the measure Tuesday, and are scheduled to make a final decision on whether to place it on the ballot July 10.

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