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5 New Schools Nearly Ready in Capistrano : Education: South County district will open more campuses this year than any in state.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Sept. 8 arrives, officials of the Capistrano Unified School District hope to open the doors to five brand-new elementary schools--and then exhale.

Administrators of the district, the fastest growing in Orange County since the 1990-91 school year, have been busy the past year planning for the day that will mark an accomplishment not seen in the county in more than two decades.

No other school district in California is unveiling as many new schools this fall, according to the state Department of Education.

The logistics and deadline pressure that come with building five schools at the same time can be trying. Think about all those walls, floors, light switches, desks, chairs, chalkboards and drinking fountains. Not to mention hiring nearly 50 new teachers, dozens of janitors and other staff.

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“It’s utter chaos, to put it very bluntly,” said Robert Ours, administrator of facilities and planning for the county Department of Education. “You stretch your resources to a frazzle, even in a large district like Capistrano Unified.”

Daniel Crawford, Capistrano Unified School District’s executive director of construction and operations, is familiar with stress. He’s the one in charge.

Crawford said he has been logging from 100 to 150 miles driving among the school sites while working 12-hour days.

The new elementary schools are Bathgate, in Mission Viejo; Hidden Hills and John S. Malcom, both in Laguna Niguel; Wood Canyon, in Aliso Viejo and Clarence Lobo, in San Clemente.

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The projects have taken the efforts of five contractors, four architectural firms, about 25 engineering firms and about 100 subcontractors.

Construction has been underway for a year or more at some of the school sites, but all of it must come to an orderly end by the first day of class.

“It’s been rather hectic,” said Crawford, who has also been pulling weekend duty.

Crews may be working over the Labor Day weekend and around the clock if necessary to finish two schools--Bathgate and Hidden Hills, Crawford said.

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No one wants to turn away hundreds of students on their first day--and no school will. Each school is designed to house 720.

“It always seems to be crunch time toward the last month of construction,” Crawford said. “It’s coming together, and out of the five schools, two are going to be very close. A lot of questions come up at the last minute like, ‘Should this light go here or here?’ It gets that small.”

The big picture is this: The five schools cost $52.9 million, and to capture state funding to cover half of that money, the school district had to hustle long before a bulldozer’s blade turned over any dirt.

The district’s student enrollment, which has grown more than 16% since the 1990-91 school year, sorely needed the schools, according to Dave Doomey, the district’s executive director of facility planning and funding.

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New housing developments in Rancho Santa Margarita and Aliso Viejo are fueling much of Capistrano Unified’s growth.

Doomey said no school district ever wants to put itself through the challenge of building five schools at once, but the money just fell into place at the right time. Doomey said the district is grateful for its predicament.

Rich Thome, the district’s assistant superintendent of elementary school operations, said nearly 50 new school teachers have been hired to help staff the expansion. Administrators also had to handle transfer requests from teachers at the district’s 21 existing schools, Thome said.

“It was almost a blessing to have five schools at once because it created an organizational need,” Thome said of the district’s staffing plan.

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Other Orange County districts have also been growing but not quite as fast as Capistrano Unified.

Since the 1990-91 school year, the Santa Ana Unified School District has grown 5%, according to the county Department of Education. Saddleback Valley Unified School District, which shares a boundary with Capistrano Unified, has seen its enrollment rise 10% in the same period.

Mike Vail, Santa Ana Unified’s senior director of facilities, said he has four projects under construction--two elementary schools, a high school and a $13-million addition to Santa Ana High School.

Mary Lou Smith, Saddleback Valley Unified’s facilities planner, said that she has two new schools headed toward completion.

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Crawford said he will be elated if everything goes the way it’s supposed to Sept. 8.

“I’m going to feel like a two- to three-week vacation,” he said. “I’m not kidding.”

Sprouting Schools

Capistrano Unified School District expects to open five new elementary schools this fall, with locations stretching from Mission Viejo to San Clemente.

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1. Bathgate

2. Wood Canyon

3. Hidden Hills

4. John S. Malcom

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5. Clarence Lobo

STUDENT FLOOD

Growth at the Capistrano Unified School District has been constant since the 1990-91 school year. The district expects to have more than 32,000 students when classes convene. Among the three largest school districts in Orange County, Capistrano has had the highest growth since 1990-91. How the district has expanded, grades K-12, and how that growth compares: District: Growth ’94-'95: 32,151* * Projected

Enrollment Increases Capistrano Unified: 16.4% Saddleback Valley Unified: 10.1% Santa Ana Unified: 5.3% Statewide: 6.4% Sources: Orange County Department of Education and the state Department of Education

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Researched by JEFF BEAN/For the Times


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