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South County new school construction continues at measured pace

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High Tech High (HTH), yet to break ground on its new 10-acre Chula Vista facility, will still open in the fall for 150 ninth graders. The students will temporarily -- for one year -- attend classes at the new Mater Dei Catholic High School in Otay Mesa.

High Tech High Chula Vista (HTHCV) will be one of six schools within a 2.5-mile radius. With more than 3,000 students at Otay Ranch High alone, overcrowding and rapid growth in Chula Vista created the need for new sites.

Yet housing and enrollment have since slowed down, and more schools mean more options for local students.

HTHCV will be part of "a growing portfolio of innovative charter schools" that emphasize "personalized, project-based learning environments where all students are known well and challenged to meet high expectations," according to the High Tech High Web site. HTHCV will have an environmental focus and could potentially attract students from all over the county.

High Tech High Chula Vista has yet to break ground on its facility, but is open this fall temporarily at the new Mater Dei Catholic High School in Otay Mesa.

"We design buildings with our instructional program in mind," said Jed Wallace, chief operating officer for High Tech High. The schools accommodate "interdisciplinary education with flexible spaces," he said.

The charter school uses removable partitions and studios for larger projects, "as many windows as possible and walls as permeable as possible, which leads to accountability for adults and students," said Wallace. Practice is public at High Tech High, and "parents really respond to that accessibility factor," he said.

Along with its new campus in South Bay, High Tech High will also open a temporary facility in San Marcos to house students during the design and construction phases of its upcoming North County campus.

Mater Dei stretches over 40 acres of land and enrolls students from all over San Diego and Tijuana. The diocese of San Diego contracted Sundt Construction Inc., Roesling Nakamura Terada Architects and Wallace Roberts & Todd Landscape Architects to design and build the school.

High School No. 13, the most recent addition to the Sweetwater Union High School District, is a comprehensive high school for up to 2,400 ninth through 12th grade students.

The school includes 197,270 square feet of facilities and was funded by Proposition BB in 2000, which authorized the school district to borrow $187 million for improvements and renovations.

Another new school still in the planning stages, Sweetwater Unified's combined 7-12 campus, is in a holding pattern.

"We don't have enough students to fill it yet so we're going to push it back another year," said Lilian Leopold, Sweetwater District grants and communications director. In spite of enrollment decline and the slowdown in housing, the planning department is moving ahead.

Sweetwater's total Proposition BB renovation funding -- up to $334.6 million -- included $147 million in state matching funds. With the passage of Proposition O, a $644 million bond measure for the construction, reconstruction and/or rehabilitation of school facilities, Sweetwater will "renovate our schools to make them all look equitable, to make every old and new school look the same," Leopold said.

The district is currently developing the designs for $180 million in renovations at nine schools and over the summer completed seven projects totaling $25 million.

Groundbreaking for HTHCV is scheduled for October.

Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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