Saugus Union School District officials are moving toward closing Santa Clarita Elementary School’s campus, the board president said Monday, citing the exorbitant cost of bringing its aging buildings up to code as the primary reason.
SUSD governing board President Katherine Cooper said Monday the announcement sent to parents was about explaining the situation and addressing some of their basic questions, like where children would go to school when Santa Clarita Elementary closes.
The district is hosting a meeting with parents, scheduled 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the multipurpose room of the campus at 27177 Seco Canyon Road.
Cooper said Monday the board officially has not yet made the decision to close the campus through a resolution. This school year is expected to be the campus’ last.
However, she also said the closure is an inevitability the board has known about since at least 2014, when the board commissioned a feasibility study on campus improvements prior to asking the community to support a $148 million bond that ultimately passed.
Nick Heinlein, assistant superintendent of business services for Saugus Union, called Tuesday to clarify the district had identified a $350,000 retrofit necessary in the 2014 bnad program, but that it didn’t know the full extent of the cost at that time.
“The work required to bring Santa Clarita Elementary up to (Assembly Bill 300) standards would be as much as or more than building a brand new school,” she said in a phone interview Monday.
She also said she didn’t have an explanation as to why the board hadn’t addressed it in the last decade, but she added that discussion of the school’s demographics during the last board meeting indicated if the decision was made to close the school for next year, it would statistically impact the fewest students.
While the decision wasn’t based on the school’s enrollment numbers, district data indicates that SUSD has lost nearly 900 students in the last year, which also would represent a multimillion-dollar hit to the district’s finances.
The enrollment projections presented to the board Oct. 10, which are also tied to pending construction among other factors, anticipate the district recouping those numbers and then some within about six years, with the district surpassing 10,000 students by 2029.
The decision to close Santa Clarita Elementary must be done through a public, multistep process to be compliant with AB 1912, according to the Oct. 10 presentation by the district’s consultants. The law “requires school districts under financial distress to conduct an equity impact analysis in its consideration of school closures or consolidations. The purpose of the bill is to guard against discrimination and ensure community input.”
During a March 2022 board meeting, SUSD officials identified the cost of retrofitting Santa Clarita Elementary as $24 million in order to make it compliant with AB 300, a 1999 state law that says school construction must meet at least 1976-era earthquake-proofing standards.
Heinlein also wrote in an email that the cost to replace the entire building, which wouldn’t provide sufficient resources for the district anymore because it’s a 60-year-old structure, actually would have been $24.8 million. He also said that while the district didn’t consider itself in financial distress, it was following all of the recommended procedures regardless for AB 1912.
“The cost to remediate the campus was $8.5 million; the current replacement cost (as determined by a state formula …) of the building was $9.5 million; when the remediaton cost is more than half the current replacement cost, the state will push you to replace the entire building,” Heinlein wrote in an email.
Once the district follows the procedures spelled out by state law regarding the noticing process and closes the campus, the district’s governing board would appoint what’s known as a seven-11 committee — a committee so called because it has seven to 11 members from the community — which would then be responsible for deciding what the district should do with the land.
Cooper said the discussions have been ongoing for some time, and while it’s not a topic she takes lightly or looks forward to, she said a teacher friend gave her a good perspective on the aging edifice:
“Schools are preparing kids for the future — museums are historical buildings,” she said. “Schools should be futuristic-looking buildings.”