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Consultant to Appraise School District Land : Simi Valley: Wood Ranch property was acquired when agreement to build campus on it was not met. Issue is whether to develop or sell.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Uncertain as to the most lucrative use of 1,800 acres in Wood Ranch, Simi Valley school officials have hired a private consultant to appraise the land and recommend development strategies.

The Simi Valley Unified School District acquired the vast hillside property in January after the developer failed to meet an agreement to construct an elementary school in the 3,000-acre Wood Ranch community.

Although a committee of residents and public officials recommended selling the land outright for $12 million earlier this year, the school board has decided to investigate whether it could make more money by developing the Long Canyon property.

“We have become realtors in a sense, and none of us knows what the best way to handle this is,” school board member Judy Barry said Friday.

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The district decided to pay VTN West Inc. about $40,000 to evaluate the property. Barry said the company should have its study completed in eight to 12 weeks.

“They’re going to be studying the whole Long Canyon area and directing us as to what would be the best use of the property in terms of developing it or selling it,” she said.

Simi Valley residents who have been closely involved with the school district’s Wood Ranch negotiations praised the school board for hiring a consultant.

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The board “wants to get the highest price for it,” said Don Otto, who serves on the district’s surplus property committee. “What everybody would like to see is that the school district is utilizing its assets in the best way.”

School officials need about $6 million from at least a partial sale of the land to pay for construction of the long-awaited 500-student elementary school at Wood Ranch.

As a result of the developer’s failure to build the facility, students living in Wood Ranch have had to attend nearby Madera School, which is almost at capacity with 700 students, district officials said.

Frustrated by the crowding at Madera, Wood Ranch parents have urged the board to swiftly find an alternative.

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“We all bought into Wood Ranch on the promise that there would be an elementary school,” resident Ron Robinson said. “You have a bunch of people who in a real sense have paid for a school.”

Robinson’s wife, Marybeth Jacobsen, agreed.

“There are a lot of people who are unhappy,” she said. “But it does sound to me that the district is making a sincere effort to get the school built.”

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During a recent school board retreat, board members requested that district officials study the feasibility of installing portable classrooms until the Wood Ranch School can be constructed.

Officials had hoped to use five existing buildings on a piece of their Wood Ranch land as a temporary elementary school for about 120 students. But to convert the cottages into classrooms would cost nearly $500,000, school officials said.

“The board really felt that was more than we wanted to sink into a temporary facility,” Barry said.

Robinson said portable classrooms would be fine, as long as the district is actively working toward building a permanent school site.

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“As long as the kids could be safe, then I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “The most important thing is to get the permanent school there in a timely and rational manner.”


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