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Called Too Costly : Dana Site Swap Plans Appear Dead

Times Staff Writer

Plans for a new San Diego community college continuing education center at the abandoned Dana Junior High School site in Point Loma are expected to be canceled Monday by the Community College District Board of Trustees, leaving no obvious solution to the long-festering problem of what to do with the school.

District Chancellor J. William Wenrich on Monday will recommend canceling the plan that would see the Dana site transferred to the college district by the San Diego city schools district. In return, the college district would have transfered its smaller Midway Adult Center near the Sports Arena to the city district.

Wenrich said Friday that the switch would cost the college district about $7 million--based on detailed studies over the past year--at a time when money is tight and construction projects are a low priority. The Dana buildings would have to be significantly renovated because they have sat vacant and been vandalized for the six years since Dana was closed because of declining enrollment.

‘I’m Very Depressed’

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“I’m very depressed, although I’ve known about (the expected cancellation) for about three weeks,” Kay Davis, the San Diego city schools trustee from the Point Loma area, said Friday.

“It’s back to square one,” said Jim Roache, vice president of the school district’s Board of Trustees. “I’d say we are in a predicament.”

The transfer plan was first made public in October, 1987, and would have involved the college district spending as much as $6 million to restore the badly vandalized school and establish a regional education center offering courses tailored to Point Loma residents. The plan also provided for recreation fields and for special courses to relieve crowding at nearby Point Loma High School, as well as cultural activities in Dana’s well-equipped, 750-seat auditorium.

In return for receiving the 13-acre site, city schools would have received the present Midway continuing education site, which sits in the middle of the commercially oriented Sports Arena area and which, if sold, could generate substantial income for the school district.

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But Wenrich said Friday that appraisers valued the Midway site at $5 million because of its commercial potential and pegged Dana’s value at less than $4 million because of its limited potential in a residentially zoned area.

“That was the first problem,” Wenrich said. “The second was that Dana needs $6 million in renovations, and so we have a $7 million deficit right off the bat if we just traded properties, and we have no appreciable gains.

Needed for Other Programs

“Sure, the property would be nice when renovated and completed, and some people in Point Loma would love to have us there, but we don’t have that priority to put that much fiscal support into that trade.” The district would be unable to use state money for renovation and would have to commit money that officials say is needed for educational programs.

Davis said Friday that the school district in recent weeks explored the possibility of giving the college district more surplus properties to try to make any transfer more balanced financially.

“I think we could have had a good deal, but they are short on dollars, like we and all public districts are, and they don’t see it the same way I do,” she said.

Davis suggested Friday that she and her colleagues “no longer consider how to make money on (selling the site) and instead cut our losses and get a solution. . . . It’s such a huge visual nuisance, it’s a miracle that we haven’t had a catastrophe there.

“At the minimum, I think we have to plan to take the building down and put on ball fields. We have saved the district $500,000 a year by not having the junior high open, and multiply that by five years--that savings has to be factored into the situation.”

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The Point Loma community supported the transfer, after having been at odds with the school district over an original plan to lease Dana for 99 years to developers for high-density housing. The single-family neighborhood has distrusted district motives ever since, even after the board cut from 99 to 25 years the maximum time for a lease, a move that makes demolition of the existing building uneconomical for developers.

In addition, the City Council last year passed zoning restrictions on closed school sites that limit uses to public activities unless special variances are given.

Davis said Friday she has talked with Councilman Ron Roberts, who represents Point Loma, about tie-ins with city plans. Roache said Friday that the district should contact other government entities to see if they have any interest in the property.


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