Major change appears to have become the new normal for Normal Street between El Cajon Blvd. and University Ave. Early last year, the DMV unveiled its plan to rebuild (and now, perhaps, move) its Normal Street field office. Then Lennar, the nation’s largest homebuilder, announced a 375-unit project where Normal St. meets Park Blvd. Not to be outdone, the City of San Diego allocated $2 million to make the long-awaited Normal Street Promenade a reality.
Now, the future of the SDUSD Education Center is back in the spotlight following the district’s successful bond measure in November. The school board pulled the plug on a controversial land swap earlier in the year, and now hopes to pursue an “authentic, collaborative” process that engages the UH community and results in identifying the highest and best use for its 11-acre property along Normal Street from Park Blvd. to Washington St.
First on the district’s agenda is identifying the organizations, community leaders, and interested citizens who might want to join its task force. A small group, including UHCA representatives, met in December to help identify stakeholders, define the process, and begin gathering the many ideas proposed over the past decades, from libraries to dog parks to parking structures and beyond. District officials plan to meet with stakeholders in January, then host a task force kick off meeting in February. Their goal is to arrive at consensus around a shared vision by mid-year.
The officials were clear that the eventual design must meet the needs of administrative center employees, while respecting bond measure spending constraints and joint-use facility regulations. They also pointed to a board resolution that commits the district to adaptive reuse of certain historic buildings, public access to green space, and exploring the feasibility of a shared paid parking structure.
The school district needs 175,000 square feet of modern (air conditioned) office space to consolidate staff for efficient communication. This might entail building several tall structures in order to activate more of the site for public use. The district alluded to the school district’s status as one of the city’s largest builders and property owners; the presence of schools in nearly every community; and their public use as meeting spaces, polling places, and emergency shelters. SDUSD leadership made it clear the Ed Center site should be viewed as a major public asset, function as an important community gathering space, and become treasured as a neighborhood amenity.
None of this will come to be until the school district and the UH community give a positive answer to the critical “threshold” question: “Should the district administrative center stay or go?” If it relocates, the district will continue to own the site, but would likely execute a joint occupancy agreement with a private entity, resulting in mixed use development.
However you feel about the future of the site, arguably one of the most important developable parcels in Southern California, the University Heights community will be well served to participate in the process with an open mind and generous spirit. That would be a “new normal” everyone can appreciate.