2017-03-16 / Front Page

Alternative high school may be housed at district offices on Janss

Latest CVHS solution appears to have support of students, staff
By Dawn Megli-Thuna

Conejo Valley Unified's south building at district headquarters on Janss Road is the latest proposed landing spot for Conejo Valley High School. Around 50 CVUSD employees would need to be relocated to accommodate the move. Early estimates put the cost of the solution at around $4 million.DAWN MEGLI-THUNA/Acorn NewspapersConejo Valley Unified's south building at district headquarters on Janss Road is the latest proposed landing spot for Conejo Valley High School. Around 50 CVUSD employees would need to be relocated to accommodate the move. Early estimates put the cost of the solution at around $4 million.DAWN MEGLI-THUNA/Acorn NewspapersThirteen months into the search for a new home for Conejo Valley High School, it turns out the now-likely location was in plain sight of the school board the whole time.

This week, trustees homed in on Conejo Valley Unified’s “south building”—site of the board’s bimonthly meetings—as the potential landing spot for the alternative school currently in Newbury Park.

At a March 14 discussion session intended to gather input from the CVHS community, board members were met mostly with nodding heads and affirmations from students and staff presented with the idea of converting the 14,000-square-foot building at 1400 E. Janss Road into a makeshift high school.

“It’s the best option we have available to us right now,” CVHS Principal Martin Manzer said, pointing out the building’s proximity to the teen center and library and to a bus stop as well. Most CVHS students take public transportation to school.

The idea of housing CVHS at Conejo Valley Unified’s headquarters was introduced as far back as April of last year, when opponents of a plan to displace Carden Conejo School and the Horizon Hills parenting program suggested the building as a potential solution.

The option was also explored last summer by an ad hoc committee tasked with finding a home for CVHS after plans to build a new campus next to the district offices—in front of Conejo Creek Park South—proved too expensive. The high school is currently renting space from the commercial developer that purchased CVUSD’s Kelley Road property in 2015.

The south building, at one time used as a school—the Conejo Development Center for the Handicapped operated there from 1977 until 1988—still meets the standards required to house students, district staff said.

CVHS staff and pupils could occupy the space immediately, provided no major changes were made to the building because any substantive alterations would require lengthy certification from the Division of the State Architect, which provides design and construction oversight for K-12 schools and other state-owned facilities.

If things go as planned and Conejo Valley High students are able to move in before the start of the 2017-18 school year in August, the district would save at least six months’ worth of lease payments, or around $150,000, district staff said Tuesday.

Costs

Regarding the cost of the south building solution, several factors make an estimate difficult at this time, Victor Hayek, assistant superintendent of business services, told the board during Tuesday’s discussion.

Not only would the district need to find a new home for about 50 staff members who currently occupy the building, including school psychologists, nurses and special-education administrators, but the site itself would need major renovations to make it appropriate for a high school.

Work necessary to convert the building from administrative offices back into classrooms—including removing partition walls and adding an extra bathroom—would cost at least $700,000, Hayek said.

Possibly more expensive would be cost of alterations to another district office to clear space for the 50 staff members. Although the property’s north building has room, it would need anywhere from $1.1 million to $2.2 million worth of renovations before it could house the additional employees, Hayek said.

In all, the proposal could run the district as much as $4 million, a figure CVUSD can handle, board president Mike Dunn said.

Dunn said the district has sufficient funds set aside for the move: $2 million from Measure I, $4.7 million from TOPASS and $1.6 million from developer fees. For him, the price is right.

“This is not coming out of our general fund, which is very tight,” he said. “That’s huge.”

The numbers cited by Hayek were prefaced with a caveat: Cost estimates are only preliminary because once workers start opening up walls, new expenses could arise.

Drawbacks

During Tuesday’s discussion, board members pointed out the obvious: CVHS students would be losing out on several significant amenities when they move out of the historic Timber School property on Newbury Road, should the move be approved.

Among them: a cafeteria, a weight room and an auditorium.

Since the move squeezes 130 or more students into 14,000 square feet, trustee Betsy Connolly said, students may need to attend classes in shifts.

She said they could potentially use the teen center across the street for their physical education classes.

“Clearly, there are facility limitations with the district office south building,” she said.

First-year trustee Sandee Everett, who placed the south building solution on the agenda in February, said she thinks it’s making the best of a bad situation.

“I realize it displaces people but there is no option that doesn’t displace people and students and programs and staff or somebody,” Everett said at the board’s March 7 meeting. “We have a dilemma. We’ve had it for some time.”

The board is expected to vote on the move at its March 21 meeting.

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