By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – Visalia Unified has yet to begin constructing a fifth high school but it already knows at least one potential location for a sixth.
At its Feb. 12 meeting, the Visalia Unified School District board approved the purchase of 83 acres at the southwest corner of Lovers Lane and Caldwell Avenue. The district purchased the property for $5.49 million from Kaweah Delta Health Care District with a down payment of $20,000.
Robert Groeber, assistant superintendent of administrative services for Visalia Unified, said there are no plans to build another middle school and high school but the district is always looking for land to meet its growth needs. The district did the same thing about 15 years ago when it purchased property on the northwest corner of Riggin Avenue and Akers Street, where Ridgeview Middle School was built and opened in 2016. The district’s fifth high school is slated for adjacent land just west of the middle school.
Similar to the purchase of the land where Ridgeview Middle School and the next high school will be built, Groeber said the district is constantly identifying land outside of the city limits as future school sites.
“Things change in 20 years and this may not be the site where we build a new middle school and high school,” Groeber said. “But having the land means we could also trade properties if we needed a school somewhere else.”
By buying the land now, Groeber said the district pays significantly less for the property before it has been slated for development and the price goes up. The district will also maintain the ag lease on the property so it will recoup some of the money for the purchase price over the next 15 years or so.
VUSD will use development impact fees to cover the cost of the purchase. Impact fees are charged on property within the district boundaries when it is developed for commercial or residential uses.
The 83 acres was originally planned as a site for the relocation of Kaweah Delta Medical Center more than a decade ago before the hospital decided to stay and reinvest in downtown. Under the terms of the contract, Kaweah Delta retained 20 acres fronting onto Caldwell for a future clinic location but Visalia Unified has first rights if Kaweah Delta decides to sell the property.
Groeber said the district will not need the property for another 15-20 years. In the meantime, Visalia Unified is working on getting Denton Elementary School ready to open for students this fall. The district is also finishing up its Measure E projects, the $60 million bond approved by voters in 2012. The district is also in the midst of building a new Sequoia High School on Woodland Street. The new continuation high school campus is set to open in January 2020.
In April, VUSD will begin a $4.5 million modernization project at Ivanhoe Elementary that should be completed by August. This summer, VUSD will begin a $19 million modernization of Golden West High School that will take at least two years. As soon as money from the state is available, Groeber said VUSD will also begin modernization projects at Mineral King, Crowley and Washington elementary schools that are part of Measure A, the $105 million bond approved by voters last November. Half of Measure A will be spent on building a fifth high school. Groeber said the district will interview architects in March and hold public outreach meetings in April and May.