HomeDistrictPlans stalled for CUSD’s vacant land between CMS and Cottages of Carmel

Plans stalled for CUSD’s vacant land between CMS and Cottages of Carmel

Published May 12, 2022

BY SHAYLA DUTTA

After purchasing an empty 8-acre lot adjacent to Carmel Middle School, Carmel Unified School District’s plans to build a multi-sport complex for student use have been stalled indefinitely according to CUSD officials.

Originally purchased under former Superintendent Barbara Dill-Varga in fall 2018 for $1.5 million, the district hoped to alleviate some of Carmel High School’s struggles on its small, 20-acre campus by diverting more parking and sports events to the 56-acre middle school campus. Currently, there is no timeline for returning to this project after it lost priority to the pandemic, and overall support.

“There was a perfect storm in terms of buying it and then getting it shut down, in terms of priorities,” says Karl Pallastrini, the only current CUSD Board member who was serving at the time of the purchase. “We had bought it close to the start of the COVID shutdown. Recovering from COVID, it’s going to really take us a while.”

According to Pallastrini, the 56 acres that comprise Carmel Middle School and the MEarth Habitat were originally intended to serve as the high school campus when it was built in 1962, but that transition never occurred. As a result, CHS’ larger student body struggles with minimal parking and limited land for sports facilities.

CUSD purchased the property adjacent to CMS in 2018, with plans to create multi-use athletic fields, but no timeline to implement them. (photo by MIKE PALSHAW)

“The fit for that property was really going to only be CUSD,” Pallastrini says, and explains that because the property lacked direct highway access and water utility, it was most valuable to CUSD as CMS had easy road access and a well on campus that could be used to supply the necessary water.

“When we bought the field, the district was working on a Facilities Master Plan and recommended baseball and softball fields for the area,” says Dan Paul, CUSD’s director of facilities and transportation. “The recommendation has not changed.”

The effort was spearheaded by Dill-Varga, former board member Mark Stilwell and former Chief Business Official Rick Blanckmeister, but was halted both by COVID-19 and steep costs for renovation.

“I remember seeing a price tag of around $70 million,” current Superintendent Ted Knight says. “The district hired a consultant to check the communities’ interest in raising their taxes for this project. As I understand it, the support and polling was low and the project did not move forward.”

Paul adds that the area is zoned Low Density Residential, meaning the area can be used for public purposes–like schools and athletic fields–but not commercial ones.

While there is no current timeline for the issue, no changes have been made to the original plans. CUSD still hopes to implement these fields in the future, even if they are low-priority at the moment.

“I think it will remain as athletic fields and multi-use fields,” Pallastrini says. “It’s going to have the original plan.”

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