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Q&A with Casino Fajardo: District preparing for new elementary school in northeast Morgan Hill

Dieldrin, a toxic insecticide, must be removed before construction can begin

Published in the June 8 – 21, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

Casino Fajardo

Casino Fajardo

The Morgan Hill Unified School District is working to develop a 12-acre parcel of land near Anderson Reservoir as the 600-student Borello Elementary School, possibly to open in 2019. Much of the orchard property was donated more than a decade ago by the local Borello family.

Located near the intersection of Peet Road and Mission Avenida about a mile east of the Cochrane exit off U.S. 101, the property was appraised at $2.6 million when it was given to the MHUSD in 2003.

Recent tests found the soil on the farmland contains high levels of a toxic insecticide known as dieldrin that was banned in the United States in 1987 because it causes Parkinson’s, breast cancer, and damage to the immune, reproductive and nervous systems. The California Department of Toxic Substance Control is now determining if the toxins can safely be removed.

The clean up could cost from $3 to $5 million before construction of the school can begin at the site.

Morgan Hill Life asked Casino Fajardo, MHUSD’s director of construction and modernization, about the project and why the MHUSD needs a new elementary school campus.

Why does the MHUSD need a new elementary school and why at this particular site given the complications with the soil?

Opening a new elementary school will help alleviate overcrowding and allow the district to have classroom space readily available to house new students as the city of Morgan Hill’s population continues to increase over the next five to 10 years. This site is important to the district because of its proximity to new housing developments and the lack of availability of larger parcels of land, such of this, within the city of Morgan Hill boundaries.

How much will the construction and development cost and where will the funding come from?

Currently, we are in the middle of master planning the site. Until the designs are completed, the district won’t have a comprehensive estimate on the overall construction and site development costs.

In general, elementary schools in the state cost between $25-$35 million depending on the construction market, economy and construction type.
Some of the funds for the new school will come from developer fees, which developers pay to the district when building new homes, but this only provides approximately 42 percent of the cost of building the school. We are hopeful that the California Public Education Facilities Bond Initiative will pass in November 2016, which will provide state resources to construct the school.

What are the next steps that the school district needs to do in working with the city of Morgan Hill to develop a master plan for the new campus?

The California Department of Education and Office of Public School Construction oversee school construction. The district has already received preliminary approval from these agencies to build a school on this site.

The district meets with the city regularly to discuss the status of the project. Currently, the MHUSD has been working with the Public Works Department regarding potential infrastructure enhancement and traffic flow.

Originally the site was designed to have a city park immediately adjacent to the school site. The district is working with the city to plan the site development to incorporate both a park and school.

Will there be any interesting features to the new school that other campuses in the district might not have?

Although we do not have anything particularly unique to this project at this time because we are early in the design process, Superintendent Steve Betando has asked the team to consider environmentally sustainable features — so “green building” design is a high priority. As with any Master Plan, we are implementing our best design practices and sharing programming knowledge.

The issue of the dangerous toxins known as dieldrin in the soil is a major concern for the site. What is this toxin and how will it be removed before construction?

The details regarding any substances on the site can be found in the Targeted Site Investigation (TSI) and Preliminary Environmental Assessment Report (PEA) that is available for view in the Morgan Hill Public Library and at our district office. The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) School’s Unit is overseeing the review and any cleanup actions for the site. DTSC would be a great resource to contact for more information.

As for the removal, the method is still yet to be determined, but ultimately would need to achieve the DTSC Schools Unit’s approval prior to beginning construction.