Visualization exercise: new high school

Picture, if you will, a new high school. That was the task set before community members at an October “scoping meeting” designed to obtain ideas on what Chico’s fourth high school might look like on each of four potential sites.

About a dozen people—not counting officials and staff—turned out for the public meeting. They peered at maps stuck to the wall of the Chico Area Recreation District center and chatted casually with Chico Unified School District trustees and people from the environmental planning firm of Jones & Stokes.

The Sacramento firm is charged with preparing the environmental-impact report for the school, but to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act it must look at not just one but four sites.

The EIR will give equal consideration to each site, said Jay Pawlek of Jones & Stokes. He said factors to think about are as wide-ranging as traffic, aesthetics and water quality. Special attention will be given in the EIR to the areas identified as being of concern. The meeting was “a chance to get a little more familiar with the project as it stands,” Pawlek said. Formal public hearings will come later.

The sites are all near Bruce Road and 20th Street, north of the Skyway. The district has been hoping to win environmental clearance for and buy land owned by the Schmidbauer family of Eureka, but federal agencies have balked because of the amount of endangered Butte County meadowfoam of the east side of the road.

Those at the meeting saw each site with space laid out for classrooms, fields, parking and courtyards.

Interestingly, one site being studied is owned by Enloe Health System, which has said the parcel is not for sale. Two others are also owned by the Schmidbauers, but it’s property the family is saving for residential development.

Dan Sours, president of the Chico Unified Teachers Association, joked cynically that the district got so much flak for choosing the environmentally constrained Schmidbauer site, “they picked some that they knew they couldn’t [purchase] to do the EIR on.”

Board President Scott Schofield suggested that there might be things going on behind the scenes that could bring previously excluded sites back in the running. “There’s no sense looking at something we can’t afford,” he said. But maybe the land costs aren’t as high as they thought.

Asked if he had a favorite site, parent Rick Ford said, “Whichever is the fastest.”

The bond-funded high school was originally to be completed by fall 2002. Now, the CUSD is aiming for 2006.