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Plans for new campus draw mixed reviews

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Oxnard Union High School District officials want to redefine the high school experience for the 21st-century student. Oxnard Union leaders have set out to meet that goal with the programs— biomedicine, engineering and performing arts—slated for the new high school in Camarillo.

The campus, to be built behind the Camarillo Library off Las Posas Road, was the focus of a town hall meeting where members of the public were informed about the project. Residents were given the opportunity to express their concerns and speak to Oxnard Union officials as well as representatives of the companies building the school on the 77-acre property.

The city-sponsored event drew nearly a full house on May 22 at the Ventura County Office of Education in Camarillo.

The $60-million project will be funded through Measure H, a bal- lot initiative passed in November 2004 that gave the district $135 million in bond money to renovate existing high schools and build two new campuses—one in Oxnard and another in Camarillo.

The grant money will be used to update Adolfo Camarillo High School: A pool will be built built, solar panels will be installed, and the technological infrastructure of the school and its wireless Internet access will be upgraded.

City population

The new campus will be smaller than originally planned and will initially accommodate 700 students, with room for up to 1,000 if population growth warrants the increase.

However, district officials have said studies show a population spike in Camarillo is not expected.

“There is not enough need projected out over 10 years to build a comprehensive high school,” said Bill Dabbs, assistant superintendent for educational services.

Where to spend the money

Although a new high school has been on the wish list of residents for years, community sentiment surrounding the project is divided.

Many would prefer to see the bond money spent on fully updating Camarillo High before building another campus.

During the town hall meeting, Oxnard Union Superintendent Gabe Soumakian encouraged residents to approach the project with the best interests of the whole community in mind.

“We’re here to support an abundance mentality, not a scarcity mentality—what’s in it for me versus what’s in it for the community,” Soumakian said.

Against the new campus

Opponents of the project expressed concerns about the proposed high school’s cost and what resources it might be taking away from ACHS.

Carolyn Triebold, mother of a student at Camarillo High, is one such opponent.

“I am worried that we are going to build this beautiful facility, and (then) how are we going to pay for the infrastructure, classified staff, cafeteria workers and administration?” Triebold said during the meeting.

“Is (average daily attendance funding) going to pay for the teachers, and if we pay for it for 700 kids, what are we going to take away from the other schools?” she asked.

Several people said that when they voted on the bond in 2004 the expectation was for a comprehensive high school that would accommodate as many as 1,500 to 2,000 students.

“I campaigned for Measure H. It was not for a magnet school. It was for a comprehensive high school,” said ACHS teacher and athletic director Mike Smith. “First we need to take care of ACHS more.”

In favor of the new campus

Proponents of the campus, many of whom have children in elementary school who could be the first to attend the new high school, are pleased by the choices the proposed school would provide.

“ It offers choice to kids who want something different,” Kamala Nahas said. “There’s a different kind of smart, and not everyone learns the same way. Not only will this school cater to that need, but (it) will celebrate that diversity and those unique learning styles.”

Tracy Mar, who lives within Rio Mesa High School’s boundaries, spoke about families throughout Camarillo that choose to take their children out of the district for high school.

“Two hundred to 250 children go outside of the district because they haven’t been able to find what they are looking for in the district,” Mar said. “A lot of children will thrive in this environment,” she said of the new campus.

Gretchen Larson of Camarillo, whose three children attend Camarillo Academy of Progressive

Education and are slated to go to ACHS, is concerned that families won’t be able to leave the district for schools in the Conejo Valley anymore because OUHSD is making it more difficult to transfer.

Larson, a former teacher, likes the proposed high school’s educational options.

Camarillo resident Joe Ortiz also supports the new campus.

“If we don’t take this opportunity now, we are going to kick ourselves in years to come if we don’t build that school,” Ortiz said.

“This is an opportunity to move forward and do something great for the children in Camarillo.”

Dabbs said the new campus will give Camarillo residents additional options when it comes to choosing a high school.

“Camarillo is a community that likes choices,” the assistant superintendent said.

“There are many different configurations of middle schools but only one configuration of a high school.”

Annexing the property

The district owns more than 77 acres of farmland that sits behind the Camarillo Library.

The land is part of the county and not the city of Camarillo.

Before construction can begin, the district will conduct several environmental studies. It needs approval from the city and then from the Ventura Local Agency Formation Commission, an independent agency that must review boundary changes for cities and special districts.

The city will ask the formation commission to annex about 27 acres of the land for the new school. The remainder will continue to be part of the county and be used for farmland.

The district will work with the city to study how the new school will affect the environment, traffic patterns and the sewer system.

Lois Roberts, representing Save Open Space & Agricultural Resources, an organization that protects open space and farmland, read a statement that urged city and district officials to look within the boundaries of Camarillo for a location for the new high school rather than encroach on undeveloped land.

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