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The San Diego Unified School District is looking at whether to seek a waiver of the Field Act, the state law governing school construction, in order to build the schoobrary more quickly and cheaply.

The Field Act requires the Division of the State Architect to sign off on school construction plans. If a 300-student school were included in the library, the building would have to gain the approval under that code. That had made necessary a feasibility study that would examine the issues of what would need to be changed from the original library plans and how much that would cost to make the building Field Act compliant.

A letter sent this afternoon from Mayor Jerry Sanders to the state librarian says the school district is looking for options that could “avoid the cost and effort of the feasibility study,” which was expected to cost $167,730. The city says it will pay $13,970, and a majority of school board members have balked at the city’s request to fund the rest. The board originally agreed to pay $20,000 for the study.

Sanders’ submission to the state includes a letter from Superintendent Terry Grier, which says the district will investigate two options. One is to pursue a waiver of the Field Act with the state Department of Education, Board of Education and the State Allocation Board. Grier’s letter states that staffers “understand” the policies and procedures of a waiver to be part of state Education Code. The other option is asking state legislators to pass a law that would waive the Field Act requirements for the schoobrary.

Such legislation, Grier writes, would be based upon the “current economic situation and the number of jobs and future economic development this project would generate.” He said any legislation would “simultaneously ensure the safety of schoolchildren and facilitate timely construction of the project.” His letter states that school board President Shelia Jackson agrees with the recommendation to investigate those options.

Sanders’ letter says that an executive order waiving the building requirements is also a possibility. The school district is expected to explore those options in the next three months, according to Grier’s letter, which indicates that school board President Shelia Jackson agrees with the recommendations.

The mayor’s update was required by State Librarian Susan Hildreth in order to determine whether to extend a $20 million state grant that expired Dec. 31. The city had asked for additional time to pursue a collaboration with the school district that could save the languishing downtown library project by infusing up to $20 million from Proposition S into the building in exchange for two floors that could host a 300-student high school.

Sanders’ letter does not include a revised budget and timeline for the project, which Hildreth had requested in December. The mayor said that information wouldn’t be known until a feasibility study is completed, which could take 12 weeks, if the district still goes that route.

The letter doesn’t specify when a revised budget and timeline would complete if the city and school district went the waiver route, but Laing said it shouldn’t take more than a few weeks after a waiver is complete.

The mayor proposes submitting monthly status updates to the state librarian starting in March to demonstrate “our commitment and progress to moving this project forward.”

Mayoral spokeswoman Rachel Laing said school board members essentially have three choices: pursuing the waiver or legislation, moving forward on the feasibility study, or dropping out of the project.

“The ball’s really in their court,” Laing said. “They’re going to determine the path this takes.”

I also put in a call to Craig Rush, the regional manager of the Southern California office of the Division of the State Architect, to ask him about waivers of the Field Act.

Rush said he knew only of a waiver process for charter schools, not for traditional public schools. “There is not a process that I’m aware of,” he said.

RANI GUPTA

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