Added school site intrigues trustees

The soonest Canyon View High School could open is in 2006—eight years after voters passed the bond to build it and with delays costing $4.9 million. But a big step in the process is nearly complete with the publication of the final environmental-impact report.

The EIR, which incorporates comments from citizens and government officials and the environmental consultant’s responses to that feedback, was released July 29. On Aug. 7, it will go before the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees, which could vote to “certify” all four sites as acceptable for Canyon View High School.

But in recent weeks the district has been taking a closer look at a piece of land formally suggested at a June 26 public hearing by Chico environmentalist John Merz. It’s acreage northwest of one of the four sites examined (Site 9, which Enloe Health System doesn’t want to sell) and south of Chico Creek.

Merz said this week that he had tried to bring up the idea before, but apparently the public hearing proved to be the proper venue to gain the trustees’ ears.

Officially, the school board’s direction to CUSD staff is to pursue the purchase of property near Bruce Road and East 20th Street owned by the Schmidbauer family of Eureka, land that federal agencies and environmentalists contend should not be developed due to endangered Butte County meadowfoam and fairy shrimp.

“I am definitely open to whatever is the best site for the high school,” Trustee Donna Aro said in an interview. “I do believe that time is of the essence, but I don’t believe that negates us from looking at other sites if they are applicable.” One of the attractions of the newly proposed site is its proximity to Marsh Junior High School and the city’s recreation center, which has yet to materialize. Still, Aro worried, “it’s not necessarily as cut and dried as it may appear.”

Representatives from the Sacramento firm that did the EIR, Jones & Stokes, indicated that looking at another site wouldn’t reset the whole process. It could just mean spending another couple of months on a supplemental EIR.

“I appreciate what appeared to be an openness to other ideas, especially this late in the game,” Merz said. “It’s unfortunate that so much time and energy was put into the Schmidbauer sites, but let’s move on.”

Comments incorporated into the final EIR ranged from city staff suggestions that the sidewalks be widened and a two-story school be considered, to urgings by the Butte Environmental Council that nothing be built on the east side of Bruce Road and alternative transportation be encouraged in any event.

The site for the new school—and even the premise that a high school is needed to relieve overcrowding—could dominate debates as school board election time nears.