New STEM campus on UCR

When I was a kid having a school in the neighbrohood was a great thing.  We all walked to and from school.  It wasn’t complicated by charter schools, vouchers, and magnet schools.  You went to the school in the neighborhood where you lived.  The school was a neighborhood resource that attracted people.  The facilities, outdoor courts, and fields supported and suplemented the city facilities for recreation.

The flow to school, on foot, knitted the community together.  We didn’t know “everybody in town” but you had an awareness of the neighborhood.  It was easy for the adults to keep an eye on things, to know whether kids hanging around at the Burger King were on lunch or skipping school.  The idea that people in a neighborhood are aware of comings and goings is a time proven way to deal with crime, education, and other quality of life issues.

Today’s world of grade, middle, and high school is quite different.  Getting to school no longer involves a short walk or bike ride.  Arrival and departure times at every school in california is a tsunami of traffic.  Traffic from all over the district because, in the case of our Riverside STEM Academy (RSA), it’s a magnet school so kids from all over come here.  Even more problematic is the nature of the traffic: sociopathic drivers dropped off and picking up kids.  They block driveways, run stop signs, and generally behave like savages in our neighborhood.  Sadder still is the poor example of citizenship and community that these drivers are providing their charges.  It makes it difficult to welcome schools into our neighborhoods.

At Hyatt elementary, located on Mt Vernon a two lane residential street, cars converge twice daily into an area that was never designed to support this level of traffic.  The same happens at North, Highland, and University Heights schools.  Highland and RSA were originally small neighborhood schools that were never invisioned to be subject to the massive vehicle surges.  People walked to school from the neighborhood when these campuses were built.

Complicating University Neighborhood relationship with RUSD is this joint RUSD and UCR proposal: move STEM to the UCR campus and more than double the schools enrollment from 535 today to over 1200 students under the proposal.  There are two UCR locations under consideration, one 4.2 acres parcel at lot 13 the other Iowa near Everton Place between University and Chicago.

The school board discussed the matter on 7/17/17 at the regular RUSD board meeting.  The agenda item relating to this are located here and here.

The short sighted consequences of the STEM lot 13 proposal on our neighborhood and the future of RSA could be significant:

  1. Traffic.  With 535 students RSA has become a logistical nightmare for residents in the Big Springs, Mt. Vernon, Watkins triangle.  By doubling the student load that nightmare will just get worse, with no benefits flowing to the suffering neighbors of the school.
  2. Parking.  Displacing the current UCR parking at lot 13 to some other location will undoubtedly worsen illegal and over capacity parking on the residential streets east of UCR.  In addition the UCR parking spaces will have to be replaced someplace, likely at a much higher cost than keeping lot 13 running.
  3. Critical infrastructure.  The east side of UCR lacks adequate sanitary sewer services to support so large a development without major (expensive) upgrades.
  4. Working team and design team.  There are no neighborhood residents part of the working team or design team. This is a major oversight and lends the appearance that RUSD and UCR are trying to exclude the local community from this process.  The board of education has excluded our voice from the process.
  5. RSA extra-ciricula activities.  For student-athetes it is necessary for them to either hustle to another RUSD campus for their sports or to simply transfer to another campus.  While the focus of RSA is academics, in today‚Äôs competitive college admission environment participation in extra-ciriculur activities matters.  This includes high school sports.  A number of highly qualified RSA students have transferred to other campuses for the particular reason of pursuing high school sports as a way to become well rounded and prepared scholars.
  6. Land-locked location.  Future expansion and improvements will be constrained.  There are no opportunities for athletics or athletic fields in the lot 13 location.

The Iowa proposal makes much more sense from a traffic planning standpoint.  With the construction of the new AQMD facility (ironically increasing vehicle trips along Iowa) that area is being preped to handling the traffic.  This will still impact the University Neighborhood by increasing the vehicle trips along MLK, Canyon Crest, Iowa and the neighboring residential streets (we all know about cut-though traffic).  But it’s a better proposal:

  1. Roadway.  The Iowa section between University and Martin Luther King is slated for multi-lane upgrades and could easily handle the twice daily surge in traffic that would accompany a 1200 student campus.
  2. Space.  There is ample room for athletic fields, experimental test facilities, and other expanded learning buildings.
  3. Proximity. The Iowa location is in close proximity to the East Side Neighborhood, an traditionally under served by college track opportunities.
  4. Resources.  Educational, recreational, staff, administration, and teaching resources could be shared between RSA and North High-School.

We need additional return on our investment from RUSD and UCR.  In the RUSD board document they reserve 10 slots at RSA for the regents of the University of California.  Giving this prefered status to UCR employees may seem innocent enough given that UCR is willing to donate the land for RSA.  However, that is not enough.  For many years UCR has successfully mined the city while returning little in direct support aside from lip service.  For the city and neighborhood to ask the following from UCR and RUSD does not strike me as unreasonable.

  1. The affiliation with UCR should not give UCR falculty and staff any priority in student placement at STEM over the local neighborhood residents.  Whether RSA is located at Iowa or Lot 13 the kids that live in the neighborhood should ALWAYS have priority admission.
  2. In order to obtain a slot high priority slot at RSA, the UCR faculty member must live in the UNA area if RSA is at Lot 13 or in the Eastside Neighborhood if RSA is located on Iowa.

RSA’s affiliation with UCR as justification for the Iowa or Lot 13 location also deserves scrutiny.  Currently located about 4 blocks from the UCR campus, does RSA have a strong ties with UCR?  Do the students and facility visit, support, and treasure RSA?  I have my doubts.  Putting RSA in lot 13 would not likely change the affiliations.

I often wonder how these locations for projects get engraved in stone (follow the money usually) before the public even knows.  Opening up our thinking allows that there is another location available for a new school and it’s in an underserved neighborhood with plenty of room for expansion: the Northside.  Currently in the analysis and input stages, the Northside will be subjected to a new specific plan.  What about a Northside location for STEM?  There is an enormous amount of land available, much of it already owned by the city.  The establishment of a large high school campus could be an economic boom for the Northside, promoting the establishment of services that go along with such a large institution.  In addition, the offerings at Northside STEM could be dramatically expanded to include construction and agricultural education.

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