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LCUSD Reviews Plans for Elementary Schools

First published in the June 23 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

The La Cañada Unified School District unveiled a revised facilities master plan that details the needs and long-term goals of each elementary school site to the Governing Board during a special meeting Monday.
The majority of the five-hour meeting focused on the future modernization of Paradise Canyon and La Cañada elementary schools as well as the current construction phase at Palm Crest Elementary. Due to the long presentation, Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said the plans for La Cañada High School will be discussed at a future meeting.
The facilities master plan was developed in 2017 when Measure LCF — a $149 million general obligation bond that is funding the repair and modernization of school facilities — was approved by La Cañada Flintridge voters and serves as a guide for the district in achieving its goal of upgrading its school sites. The living document also informs the community of the LCUSD’s most dire needs and its plans to address them.
Harold Pierre, the district’s program manager, began the lengthy presentation updating the board on the Palm Crest modernization — which is projected to cost more than $37 million — and informing the community of additional priorities for site. According to the new assessment, the school is need of an upgrade to its air-conditioning unit, renovation of the playground and parking lots and replacement of the administration and kindergarten building.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said the current construction plan for PCR does not address the administration building and could cost the district up to $10 million in replacing the structure.
“That’s not part of the scope of this project,” she said. “Having [worked] in the admin building way back in the early 2000s, it’s sorely in need of upgrades and a facelift and probably a redesign. It was always the intention that at some point a future bond with future dollars would address this critical area.”
Any construction to the administration building would overlap with the modernization of the PCR parking lot on Palm Drive, which also serves as the pickup and drop-off area, and so LCUSD staff recommended that it would be best to table the projects and redesign a new building and parking lot together.
“The best approach would be to consider doing the parking lot and drop-off in conjunction with the admin and kindergarten building,” Pierre said. “We think that would likely be the best approach so that we’re not constructing something that we have to undo when we do the new building.”
The board agreed and advised staff to design with input from community members and teachers. The move is a win for several stakeholders and residents living near the area who campaigned against the construction plans for the PCR parking lot because it would have required demolition of trees.
Board member Kaitzer Puglia was supportive of the idea but wants the district to keep safety as its top priority when it comes to designing a new parking lot that includes a fire lane and pickup and drop-off lane.
“It doesn’t make sense to do one piece and then come back 10 years later and do another piece, so most definitely bringing everyone involved and doing a more holistic dig-through [is best],” she said. “I want to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the fact that as we’re beginning to do this planning that we do have some parking issues around the neighborhood that have to be addressed and then safety still being priority at this point.”
Josh Epstein, board clerk, agreed that safety should be a priority and suggested that the district reach out to the city for help in evaluating the traffic in the area that would help LCUSD as it designs the parking lot.
“We’re buying ourselves time, [so] let’s use the time wisely and figure out the best way to make real impact here,” said Epstein, who was co-chair of the campaign for Measure LCF five years ago.

Vision for New Paradise Canyon Campus

The second portion of the facilities master plan presentation focused on the modernization of Paradise Canyon Elementary, which will feature two new buildings.
GGA Architects working on design, also worked on LCHS pool, envision construction of two new buildings, upgrades to existing structures and implementation of walkways. The design also features many benches and outdoor learning courtyards surrounded by lush landscaping.
The PCY modernization project is currently in the design process and the total cost of modernization could surpass $40 million after inflation.
“I think the biggest takeaway is the fact that we are seeing severe cost escalation in construction, especially this year with the supply issues that whole economic sector is facing,” Pierre told the board. “We hope that it’s short-lived and that in a year or two by the time we actually start construction on this project, things would have worked itself out.”
The Governing Board advised LCUSD staff to get input from its security consultants on the proposed design and to explore the possibility of adding solar panels to the site.

LCE Renovation in Early Stages

The modernization of La Cañada Elementary wasn’t a long conversation between district staff and the board, mainly because the project hasn’t even reached the conceptual design phase.
However, Pierre did say that the original plan of building a two-story structure would not “serve the district well” and that it wouldn’t be wise to spend money on replacing the building that also happens to be the newest on the campus.
“My suggestion would be not to remove any existing permanent buildings and primarily focus on removing and replacing the portables that are there,” Pierre added.
LCE requires many of the same upgrades as the other elementary sites, such as upgrading the air conditioning system and improving the parking lot.
How the district moves forward with LCE and other projects also depends on the state Legislature. A bill recently introduced by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty of Sacramento would require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten, which would impact LCUSD’s plans for its facilities.
Mark Evans, associate superintendent of business and administrative services, said the district will monitor the situation, as well as the possibility of the state mandating free transportation for all students.
“Those are things that are way off; they don’t have a definite shape to them yet, but there are things we should keep in mind as potential shifts or changes in the years ahead,” Evans said.

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