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Quality Schools Prove Magnet for Buyers : Upland: San Bernardino County bedroom community now thrives where citrus industry once was king.

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“I think we were lucky,” said Cary Menard, “for people coming from out of state, to find a city that we liked on the first try.”

The object of Menard’s affection is Upland, a San Bernardino County city of 65,000 residents about 35 miles, or a 1 1/2-hour rush-hour commute, east of downtown Los Angeles.

Menard, an attorney, and his wife, Lucille, moved their family to Upland, relocating halfway across the country from Louisiana, after he was hired as counsel for the National Hot Rod Assn., headquartered in Glendora.

“We looked at (housing in the) surrounding areas around Glendora, and just liked this,” Lucille Menard said. “It . . . looked more congested in the other areas.

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“I didn’t particularly like the Los Angeles County towns,” she added, ". . . because of the higher taxes and the higher property (prices). We figured that Upland was close enough (to Glendora), and we could save some money.”

In April, 1991, the Menards lease-optioned a “big and roomy” 3,000-square-foot Mediterranean-style home, Lucille Menard said. A guest bedroom was another plus because, she said, “we moved from so far and knew that we would have visiting family.”

A lure for many who move to Upland from Los Angeles County communities is the city’s excellent school district.

Former San Gabriel residents Sylvia and Steven Barrows had seen the quality of their children’s school system steadily decline, Steven Barrows said.

“The environment in (our children’s) school . . . was changing in San Gabriel. We could see (gang activities increasing) year by year,” he said.

After researching the cost of private-school education for their two daughters, the Barrowses decided it would be wiser to move to a community with a first-rate school district and to use the money they would have spent on tuition to buy a larger home.

The Barrowses live in an 18-year-old, custom-built, 3,200-square-foot home, which they have remodeled inside and out. The final step will be to convert the front yard’s landscaping from an excess of water-thirsty grass to more drought-resistant plants and large rock capes.

Steven’s parents had lifelong friends living in Upland who told the younger Barrowses that Upland’s educational system was top-notch. “That was kind of a bonus reinforcement” that the Upland move was the right decision, Steven said.

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Nonetheless, Sylvia thoroughly researched Upland’s schools. “We spoke to real parents,” she said, and Sylvia volunteered daily at her children’s new Upland school before and after the family moved to the city.

Longtime Upland residents also appreciate the city’s high- quality school district. Bill and Susan Haigh, who have lived in Upland for 16 years, are especially proud of the new Pepper Tree Elementary School.

Pepper Tree is geared to a high-tech educational approach, including a battery of Macintosh computers. The school, Bill Haigh said, “would be a major reason why we would never leave this area now.”

Beyond the educational system, he said, Upland is “a great community for kids. . . . It’s really good for my kids, both in school and out of school.”

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The community’s thriving parks and recreation department is well advertised, Haigh said, in a city magazine that is “absolutely chock-full of (activities) for the kids to do.”

The Haigh’s home is a a two-story tract house with four bedrooms in 2,100 square feet and a “white picket fence out in front,” Haigh said.

The home, on a large lot with a pool and RV parking, originally cost $28,000. Today, Haigh said, the house is worth about $280,000.

While it is a bedroom community now, Upland began as orchard land. Citrus was the dominant industry in the town’s early decades, with seven to eight citrus-packing houses picking and crating in the city and sending massive shipments of oranges and lemons across the country to citrus-crazed Easterners.

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But now residential development has replaced the trees. According to Ron Stickelman, owner/broker of Upland’s Alpha Omega Realty, 78% of Upland’s homes are single-family residences, 14% condominiums and 8% rentals.

Low end-priced, single-family homes--with two bedrooms, one bathroom and about 1,000 square feet of living space--currently begin at $125,000, said Joann Robuck, a realtor for Upland’s Re/Max Estate Services. “The value is in the land,” she added.

Big-ticket, single-family homes soar in price to $1,595,000, for a 7,200-square-foot home on the city’s prestigious Euclid Avenue.

A comparison of new versus resale homes of similar size showed that a 3,000-plus-square-foot home on one-half acre would list for $540,000 to $580,000, while a 10-year-old, 3,100-square-foot house with a smaller lot (but with a pool) would list for $399,000.

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An 800-square-foot condominium located in a rental area near the San Bernardino Freeway, Robuck said, would be priced at $82,000, while a 2,000-square-foot condominium near Upland Hills Country Club would list for $269,000.

Although they enjoy many aspects of their city, some Upland residents miss the big-city amenities.

Sylvia Barrows said she misses the many shopping malls in the San Gabriel Valley and dislikes the shopping strip centers that have sprung up throughout Upland.

But despite some minor disappointments, the Barrowses feel they are offering their daughters a safer lifestyle. The Barrows children were often restricted from going alone to San Gabriel skating rinks and movie theaters.

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“We had left skating rinks in San Gabriel in the early evening, because of the clientele we had seen coming in,” Sylvia Barrows said.

In Upland, she added, “it’s a much safer feeling. . . . We’re allowing our children to do a lot more things here than we would have in San Gabriel.”

Although there is crime in Upland, Bill Haigh said, “I don’t think we have even had a crime in (my) neighborhood, that I’m aware of.”

Ken and Louise McCullough have lived in Upland for 28 years. McCullough, a contractor, built his family’s 3,100-square-foot home in 1977 for $100,000. Today’s price, for what he called, “four walls and a roof,” would be $450,000.

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McCullough said that “as the (city’s) population grew, the crime rate seemed to increase.” He has installed a home alarm system and “all of our friends have the same types of devices . . . ,” he said.

Upland Police Chief Gary S. Hart admitted that the city “is vulnerable to residential burglaries. . . . That’s our main concern.” Fortunately, he noted, many Upland communities have active Neighborhood Watch programs.

Despite Upland’s steady population growth and an increase in crime, Steven Barrows said, Upland “feels less like living in the city. We feel different out here. . . . Not exactly on your guard all the time, but just more relaxed.”

At a Glance Population 1991 estimate: 62,711 1980-91 change: +31.6% Median age: 33.9 years Annual income Per capita: 17,815 Median household: 40,032 Household distribution Less than $15,000: 15.6% $15,000 - $30,000: 20.1% $30,000 - $50,000: 26.1% $50,000 - $75,000: 20.5% $75,000 +: 17.7%

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