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Status update: middle school boondoggle at Creekside

Spring has sprung in Arden Arcade. and the construction of the large new middle school at the site of the old Creekside Elementary School continues to plod along. The latest status (December 2023) from our dear friends at the San Juan School District was posted on their website. Of course, they tried to put a happy face on it, but the status announced the school's opening has been pushed back until January 2025. They tried to blame the delay on bad weather (they did not expect muddy soil at a project that started in the rainy season) and the environmental review process (regulations the school district played loosey-goosey with). Lo and behold, they also overlooked the issue of soil toxicity - something that's ultimately not stood in the way, thanks to the lax procedures of the State Department of Toxic Substances Control. And they underestimated the costs of electrical work. Oh, that pesky due diligence!

Ultimately, the due diligence thing is a matter for the Board of Trustees of the school district. The school district is a unit of local government responsible to the public, not to the Superintendent or other employees. Being elected officials, the members of the Board of Trustees are the deciders; they make the policy decisions. The Superintendent and subordinate staff are supposed to carry out the school board's policies. Yet the school board instead acts like it does whatever the Superintendent and the subordinate employees want, just functioning as a rubber stamp. Here are a few ways the school board has hexed itself on this project:

  • chose a middle school site that's fraught with problems - too small, significant access problems, history of toxic dumping, mostly flood-prone
  • made a sneaky decision to approve the project, by burying it deep within its agenda where the public was unlikely to notice
  • cut a deal with its A&E and construction firm buddies to use a questionable method of financing the project
  • waited 5 months AFTER making the decision to start the required environmental analysis, something that is supposed to be done BEFORE making a decision to build something
  • as part of the environmental review process, told the public nothing could be changed because the decisions had already been made, even though the point of the environmental review process is to seek changes that would mitigate damage to the environment
  • let the contractor cut down big trees during the nesting season, in violatoin of the U.S. Migratory Bird Act
  • lied about school bond money being used for the project (a matter currently in court)
  • altered the flood plain of Chicken Ranch Slough, placing Lacy Lane properties at greater risk of flooding
  • allowed the contractor to cheat by doing routine (not emergency) work during night hours
  • cut off most public access to the Creekside Nature Area (other than a small footpath from Lacy Lane), making it hard for the park district to access the site, thereby increasing fire risk there
  • made a little-known, yet major, school boundary decision that will increase automobile traffic for students from privileged neighborhoods and quite possibly endanger pedestrian/cyclist students from underprivileged neighborhoods
  • forced the County to obligate money for a new traffic light on El Camino at Kent that will 1) be inadequate and 2) cause commute traffic problems
  • arranged for by-district elections of an expanded school board so the people responsible for making the decisions about the new middle school are unlikely to be around to feel the pain.

OK, who is ready for 2025, when those mistakes hit the fan?

A construction site with concrete foundation work and two wooden frame buildings.
Is it a sign of good planning that construction work was done at Creekside on the Saturday before New Year's Eve? What else might this tell you?


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