ENCINITAS — The second phase of the Cardiff Elementary School campus rebuild has been suspended after a court ruling last week granted a preliminary injunction, and made certain other legal findings, requested by a small group of nearby residents who oppose the project.
The ruling from San Diego County Superior Court is the latest in a growing battle between the school district and the residents who have opposed the proposed overhaul since drawings of the redesign were made public in 2017. The plan includes the construction of new buildings and the construction of a new multi-purpose room and outdoor amphitheater on land that is currently part of the district-owned George Berkich Park.
Funding for the rebuild comes from Measure GG, a $22 million bond measure approved by nearly 66% of Cardiff voters in 2016.
The ruling is part of ongoing litigation brought by the residents and primarily surrounds a $160,000 grant tied to the school playfields. Encinitas and the Cardiff School District accepted the grant more than 25 years ago to improve the playfields. The grant agreement included a stipulation that requires the district to obtain certain state and federal approvals when building any new structures within the then existing school playfield boundary.
The current school rebuild plan calls for a small additional encroachment — less than 10% of the overall project site — into the playfield and a corresponding grant agreement boundary adjustment to accommodate the project.
The district said it is considering its legal options with regard to the ruling.
“This decision does not change the fact that the district continues to work in good faith to deliver Cardiff voters the new school they were promised as part of this bond measure,” Cardiff School District Superintendent Jill Vinson said in a news release. “We stand behind this project and the priority that it places on student safety and the educational programs of the District.”
The Cardiff School rebuild project replaces the 60- to 70-year-old buildings on the school site with a new and modernized school that prioritizes school safety, learning spaces, traffic flow, community connection, green space and views, and an environmentally focused design.
Since 2017, the district has made several changes to the original design, including backing off the original plan of building both the multi-purpose room and kindergarten classrooms on park space.
It also attempted to address concerns about the floor plan — which opponents argued was too sprawled _ the loss of green space, trees and views. The final iteration of the plan, released in May 2018, proposed fewer of the large courtyards than in the previous proposals and relocated the multipurpose room on a lower section of current field so that it didn’t impact views as much as the first plan.
For now, the district will continue moving forward with construction on Phase 1 of the project, which sits outside of the playfield boundary in question. Phase 1 includes the majority of the new classroom buildings. Demolition, grading and underground utility work is nearly complete, and construction of classroom buildings will start this month and run through next August.
Phase 2 is on hold until the grant and litigation issues are resolved and includes the new multi-purpose building and new parking lot. It is anticipated that this phase will take place from June of next year through Spring 2021, when the entire Cardiff School campus is scheduled for completion.
“The District’s priority has been and will always be the students,” Siena Randall, president of the Cardiff School District board, said in a release. “We will continue to put their best interests above the interests of others that have attempted to impede this project.”