High school delays frustrate overseers

The latest estimate for opening day at Chico’s fourth high school is 2006, eight years after the community passed a bond to build it.

The Measure A Community Oversight Committee, which was formed with the passage of the bond in 1998, met May 9, as it does every three months or so, and again heard what has become the perpetual update on Canyon View High School: “Not yet.”

An environmental-impact report released last week found that building a high school on one of four sites in southeast Chico is certain to affect the environment, but the least damaging option is to build on land owned by Enloe Health System, which doesn’t want to sell. The district’s first choice is land at Bruce Road and East 20th Street owned by the Schmidbauer family of Eureka.

The school board must decide to certify the EIR and then whether it will agree to mitigate the impacts as outlined in the EIR or will look to other community entities to help take care of traffic, environmental and other concerns. Mike Weissenborn, facilities planner for the Chico Unified School District, said he is meeting this week with wetlands consultants on the issue of vernal pools and Butte County meadowfoam that is present on the chosen properties.

Committee member Gary Fowler asked, “It really comes back to community feedback, right, once this [the EIR] is out?”

Meanwhile, some people are worrying that by the time the school is built, the district won’t be able to afford to staff it. Superintendent Scott Brown told a CUSD committee recently that it’s getting harder to justify the fixed costs of a new school, even as the two comprehensive high schools in Chico run well over capacity.

The project is already costing about $5 million more than expected, as inflation deflates the bond’s buying power. “It’s costing us money—lots of money,” sighed committee member Jerry Roster.

But Weissenborn said that fees developers pay to compensate for growth that comes with new construction should offset the cost and that the district is holding onto that money for the high school. “Right now we’ve got a pretty healthy balance in our developer fees,” Weissenborn said. The trick, he said, will be to “fight any tendency to spend that money ahead of time. … A big pot of money is attractive, but it really is spent.”

On the up side, most of the other projects funded by the bond have been completed, and work is starting on the Chico High gym remodel, which was delayed so the CUSD could leverage the bond dollars with state money and get more done.

A meeting will be held at 7 p.m. May 16 at Little Chico Creek Elementary School to introduce the EIR to the public. It’s not the public hearing; that will be June 26.