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San Diego Unified: School improvements are ahead of schedule, under budget

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday unanimously approved a plan for several multimillion-dollar construction projects this year, including several campus renovations.

The projects will be paid for from funds from the bond measures approved by voters in 2008 and 2012, Propositions S and Z.

More than $1.3 billion has been spent on district schools since passage of those measures, according to board President Richard Barrera. The two bonds combined provide almost $5 billion for capital improvements.

"Voters made a decision to reach into their own pockets and increase their taxes to invest in young people here in our community," Barrera said at a midday news conference at Kearny High School, the future home of the New School Stanley E. Foster School of Engineering, Innovation and Design.

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Barrera said the bond measures allowed the district to "invest in state- of-the-art technology and facilities so that our young people would be equipped to go into the 21st century and to not only be prepared to work in high-quality careers, but actually to become leaders in the 21st century."

The district has spent $1.32 billion to complete more than 110 construction projects, including 53 new classroom buildings, the replacement of 371 old portable classroom buildings, and adding 21 college, career and technical education facilities that give students an opportunity to explore college and career programs.

"Not only did we do what we promised, but we promised that when we did this, we would be careful with our spending and we have," Superintendent Cindy Marten said at the board meeting.

Innovation centers are open at Morse and Crawford high schools, with plans to add additional ones at Lincoln, Hoover and San Diego high schools this year.

The lab under construction at Kearny High "will be part of the district's program to provide high school students with the skills necessary to succeed in post-secondary college education as well as entry-level employment and career advancement," said Lee Dulgeroff, the district's chief facilities planning and construction officer.

"We're standing in a new 1,800-square-foot lab that's going to be equipped with state-of-the-art industry design tools."

District officials also announced they are making significant improvements in providing access to technology, having outfitted 5,477 classrooms with interactive technology, and providing all kindergarten-through- 12 grade students with individual computing devices.

Air conditioning has been installed in 2,000 classrooms at 66 schools across the district, with the entire district slated to be air-conditioned by 2019. In addition, the bond funds will be used to build eight solar projects this year.

"San Diego Unified has 226 education facilities, 14.9 million square feet of buildings that serve 130,000 students, and the truth is, the average age of our buildings is 44 years," Dulgeroff said.

"We have much more work planned ahead, and we look forward to a bright future to support our students with teaching and learning environments that are worthy of them."

Julie Martel, executive director of facilities planning and design for the district, told the board members that the primary focus is to create student-centered learning spaces for not just Tuesday and Wednesday, but 30 years into the future.

"We are designing spaces that are transparent, that are flexible and adaptable, spaces that support critical thinking, problem based learning, and because we know learning can and should happen everywhere on our school sites, we're actually designing indoor-outdoor learning spaces whenever possible," Martel said.

"Our district's instructional programs are rapidly evolving."