School board agrees to speed up lease process


Under pressure from the Ladera community and the private school leasing the former Ladera School site, the Las Lomitas School District board has agreed to speed up the process of negotiating a new lease of the site.

But the board's informal agreement during a study session last week to shift the process into high gear may have come too late to keep Woodland School, which has leased the site for 30 years, from moving -- a scenario that could cost the financially strapped district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We're very aggressively looking for a new site," John Ora, Woodland's head of school, said after the June 28 study session.

Woodland's long-term lease on the site expired in July 2010, but the school has signed one-year extensions since then because the district hadn't been prepared to launch a bidding process allowing Woodland and other schools to compete for a new long-term lease. Woodland's current lease expires in July 2013.

Woodland School officials have long urged the district to open the competition for leasing the site because the uncertainty over whether the preschool through eighth-grade school will need to find a new home prevents them from planning effectively for the future. The school site needs extensive renovation and repair; Woodland estimates costs for such a project at $8 million, and has said it will pay for the work if the school secures a long-term lease.

Last year, it appeared that the district would begin the process in January of this year. But Superintendent Eric Hartwig said the board subsequently decided to delay it until more strategic planning of the district's educational and facilities needs was done. At that point, Woodland School officials were told that the process would not be started until June 2012, at the earliest, according to David Spreng, chair of the Woodland board of directors.

In a May 9 letter to the board, Mr. Spreng wrote: "We simply cannot run the risk that we will be a school without a campus. ... Whether intentionally or not, the indefinite and impossible-to-predict delay in the long-term lease (bidding) is pushing Woodland out of its 30-year home and is effectively removing us from the long-term lease process altogether." The school, he said, is not interested in another lease extension beyond 2013 unless the board commits to a lease-process timeline.

That and other concerns were reiterated at the June 28 meeting. Jay Rosenthal, a spokesman for Woodland, warned the board that if the district doesn't move quickly, it is in danger of losing the $650,000 per year Woodland pays for the site, which would likely remain vacant for some time after Woodland moves out.

After hearing from the speakers, the board and its facilities consultant discussed adjusting the timeline, and arrived at a scenario in which bidding would begin early next year and a lease signed by June 2012.

The district's Ladera School operated at the site until it was closed in the late 1970s. The site has been declared surplus, and residents of the Ladera community have been emphatic about their desire to see it used for a school rather than for housing or commercial purposes.

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