Closed Public School Sites in San Carlos
www.kuraoka.org

In 2011, the San Diego Unified School District proposed closing a dozen public schools in a "realignment" to eliminate a projected budget shortfall of $60-$118 million. The closure recommendations were rescinded after an outpouring of local support for the targeted schools. For now, the plan is for all schools to remain open. However, the spectre of school closings, once raised, may prove difficult to exorcise.

After all, downsizing school operations may still need to happen if funds and enrollments keep slipping. Suburban San Diego real estate remains largely unaffordable to families with school-age children, and countywide our population is simply aging in place. Here's a relevant quote from a recent SANDAG report: "By 2030, nearly 19% of the region's population will be 65 or older – a higher percentage than is seen today in the retirement-oriented state of Florida."

So, barring a surprise influx of young families (and a concurrent rise in property tax revenues based on a slew of newer, higher assessments), the threat of school closures remains suspended over the region.

Two local schools were targeted for closure.
Marvin Elementary in Allied Gardens was to close June 2012, and Gage Elementary in San Carlos was to be evaluated for closure at the end of the 2012/2013 school year. If implemented, Hearst Elementary in Del Cerro would become the only GATE/Seminar elementary school feeding into Patrick Henry High School. And, the neighborhood school that has been a part of our family for three generations would be gone.

The last time public schools were closed (or, "realigned") en masse was in 1983, when declining enrollments led to a dozen or so schools closing all over San Diego. The average family size here in the suburbs fell from 3.8 in 1960 to 2.8 in 1980, and households simply aged out of the school system. (Sound familiar?) Here's a look at how some closed neighborhood school sites are being used now.

I'm interested in the history of school closures because our kids attend the local public schools. But I'm also fascinated by urban archeology and the abandonment of public infrastructure.

It's been hard to find information online about shuttered school sites, and data from different sources often conflict (I suspect that some dates refer to the school year and others to the calendar year). But here's what I've cobbled together so far. If you have information on these or other closed public schools that fed into Patrick Henry High School, I'd love to hear from you!

Benchley Elementary, 7202 Princess View Drive in Allied Gardens. I had very little information about this school until I received an email from Ken Prescott in June 2012, who kindly allowed me to publish his letter. Thank you, Ken!

John,

I happened on your page while looking for info on the old neighborhood, and found the page on closed schools. I can give you a little insight on Benchley.

I grew up in Allied Gardens and went to Foster Elementary, Lewis Junior High, and Patrick Henry Senior High (Class of 1983). Benchley closed at the end of the 1980 school year.

Benchley was the most "expendable" school in the area; it only covered grades 1-3 (most kids who went to Benchley finished elementary school at Marvin, but a few at the western boundary of the Benchley enrollment area went to Foster). Basically, they were paying a full school staff (principal, office staff, custodian, nurse) for 1/2 of an elementary school, one with very low enrollment--the Benchley enrollment area was a sliver of Allied Gardens and Princess View. I think the school was an afterthought put in place to meet some sort of maximum walking distance requirement within the shape of the Allied Gardens development.

... Later in the 1980s and into the 1990s, it was used as a campus for Maric College. If I remember correctly, they moved out in 1994 or 1995.

The decline in enrollment at Benchley must have started in 1974 or 1975 with the last of the boomers cycling through. Patrick Henry '82 had over 1200 students; '83 went down to 890. When I visited Henry a few years ago, it felt like a ghost town compared to my time there.*

The question of what to do about surplus infrastructure never goes away; I spent a fair amount of my time as a consultant to the Navy addressing whether (or how) to downsize communications facilities--do we need it today vs. will we need it tomorrow?

Sincerely,
Ken Prescott

Upon closure, the school merged with Jacob Weinberger Elementary (6269 Twin Lakes Drive) to become Benchley/Weinberger Elementary in San Carlos.

In 2002, the school district invited bids for a 10-year site lease, to start on July 1, 2003 and end on June 30, 2013. However, no lessee was mentioned in a 2005 resolution granting an easement to SDG&E to "Erect, Construct, Change the Size of, Improve, Reconstruct, Relocate, Repair, Maintain, and Use Facilities on Property Owned by the San Diego Unified School District (Former Benchley Elementary School Site)."

The Benchley Elementary site is currently occupied by the Excelsior Academy, a blue-ribbon private school specializing in grades 3-12 with learning differences.

De Anza Elementary, 6525 Estrella Avenue in Grantville. Another big thank-you to Ken Prescott for the tip-off, and also the following information about this short-lived school:

... It served as an overflow school for Foster's 1st and 2nd grade. I went there for the second half of first grade. If I remember correctly, it converted to a preschool in 1975 or so (I was still at Foster), because Foster didn't need the overflow space any more. When I was there, it was nothing but bungalows; they took them out and put in permanent buildings for the preschool.

The De Anza site is currently listed as a Child Development Center as part of the San Diego Unified School District's Early Childhood Education Program. It serves children from low-income families, and offers a pre-school (ages two through four) and Kindergarten, with a summer Kindergarten program.

Cleveland Elementary, 6365 Lake Atlin Avenue in San Carlos. Built in 1959; 14-16 classrooms, 29,565 square feet on 7.06 acres. This school became infamous in 1979, when troubled 16-year-old Brenda Spencer gunned down the principal and head custodian, and wounded eight students and a police officer, from her house across the street. This tragic event inspired the Boomtown Rats' hit song I Don't Like Mondays.

Cleveland Elementary was closed in 1983, after which many public and private programs used the space on short-term leases. It was occupied by the private Lutheran High School of San Diego, operated by the Center for Lutheran Education; this lease expired in 1988 when the school district doubled the rent on the space. In 1988 the site was leased by the private K-8 San Diego Hebrew Day School, which occupied the site until the early 90s. In 1999 it was reported as being used as a district meeting space and textbook evaluation center.

A charter school may have occupied the site until 2003. The site was also partly occupied by the San Diego Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting Program. Around 2004-2005, charter schools Einstein Academy and High Tech High fought bitterly over the site, which seemingly ended with a split district vote in favor of the latter based on its ability to pay for extensive mandatory retrofitting. However, the lease was never actually awarded, and the High Tech High Media Center never occupied the site. It should be noted that taxpayer-funded charter schools pay significantly less to lease school sites than private schools.

The site temporarily housed the private Children's Creative and Performing Arts Academy until 2006, when the Arts Academy moved out and Momentum Middle School, a charter school with a curriculum based on the Magnolia Science Academy out of Los Angeles, moved in. The Cleveland Elementary site is now leased to the Magnolia Science Academy, serving grades 6-8.

Forward Elementary, 6460 Boulder Lake Avenue in San Carlos. Built in 1961; 14-16 classrooms on 11.92 acres. Forward Elementary had the largest site footprint among Navajo area elementary schools (an honor now owned by Gage Elementary at 11.68 acres). In 1980 a government report said it met size standards, which called for elementary school site sizes of 10 acres or larger serving 750-1,000 students. (To put that "standard" in perspective, most elementary schools in the Navajo area currently have student bodies of 600 or less.) While the two smallest elementary schools in the area, Cleveland and Grantville, were therefore targets for closure, Forward Elementary's ample size didn't protect it; declining enrollments district-wide led to its closure in 1983.

For a short time the site was at least partly occupied by Children's Day Treatment (formerly New Alternatives K-6) and Venture Day Treatment (grades 7-12), aimed at mainstreaming children with "intense behavioral and emotional difficulties" usually tied to alcohol or substance abuse.

Since 2005, the Forward Elementary site has been the home of Springall Academy, a private non-profit school focusing on mainstreaming K-12+ students with special behavioral needs.

On March 25, 2012, the San Carlos Community Garden held a groundbreaking celebration. The garden occupies about a half-acre at the southern end of the school campus, at the corner of Boulder Lake Avenue and Lake Adlon Drive. The master plan currently calls for a native plant garden, orchard, herb garden, pumpkin patch, school vegetable garden, numerous fruit trees, and a bamboo patch for growing support poles. Planned facilities include composting bins, a greenhouse, gazebo, storage shed, produce-washing sinks, an outdoor classroom, and a wind-powered water pump and renewable energy exhibit. The master plan also calls for dozens of public/community garden plots of varying sizes in the "Farm" section of the garden; those plots are now available for a nominal annual fee covering water and overall maintenance.

Grantville Elementary, 6145 Decena Dr in Grantville just off Vandever. It was built in 1954, but traced its roots back to the very first school in the area, built in 1890. Site size: 13 classrooms on 6.04 acres. Grantville Elementary was closed in 1983 due to substandard site size and declining enrollment. A long-term (25+ years) lease was signed with the Vista Hill Foundation, which operated the private Los Niños Center for the handicapped; in 1990 the facility was renamed the Sam and Rose Stein Education Center. It specializes in educating kids with severe emotional and developmental disabilities.

In 1986, city planners proposed acquiring 2 1/2 to 3 acres of the Grantville Elementary site for parkland, for which the city would pay the school district based on a discounted property schedule. In the end, 2.66 acres – over a third of the school site – were turned into the Grantville Neighborhood Park.

Interestingly, the same report identified the playground at Gage Elementary in San Carlos as being a top priority for city acquisition should that school be declared surplus.

Montezuma Elementary, 4961 64th Street in the College Area. Site size: 13 acres. This school probably fed into Hoover High School, not Henry High School, but it was still fairly close, just southeast of SDSU. It may have been scheduled to close in 1983 with the others; it held on until declining enrollments and a shifting population led to its closure in 1986. A 10-year lease was signed with SDSU, which planned to use the space for parking; this lease expired in 1996. During that time, the school site was at least partly occupied by university-serving offices, a day care/preschool which served about 120 students, and a 10,000-square-foot library.

The Montezuma Elementary site is currently occupied by The Language Academy, a magnet school offering a K-8 program focusing on French and Spanish immersion.

* Patrick Henry High School currently enrolls about 2,500 students (2013).

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