The Sweetwater Union High School District board of trustees approved a resolution recently to initiate building a university for the South County.
The proposal for Sweetwater University was spawned from the lack of progress toward bringing a University of California or California State University to the South Bay area.
“If we’re always waiting for somebody else to create the environment we’ll be waiting for a long time,” District Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand said. “I’m very optimistic that we can create a unique opportunity to improve the quality of life for the entire region.”
The project would be funded through a school bond using taxpayer money.
“We wanted to see how willing the community was to finance their own university…” Brand said. “It would produce jobs and stimulate the local economy and create a live, work environment from cradle to grave.”
Brand said that if voters are interested and the bond is approved, the university could be complete by 2015 or 2016. It would initially serve 1,000 to 2,000 students and grow to accommodate 5,000 to 10,000.
Chula Vista resident Stewart Payne said the university would be a good idea if it’s implemented properly.
“I think it could be a good thing but I’m not supporting a bond,” Stewart said. “They (the district) haven’t properly managed a bond they’ve had in the past. How can the district manage a college when they can barely manage a district?”
District board president John McCann said he came up with the idea of building a university in the South County after leaving the Chula Vista city council.
“The entire South County doesn’t have a major four-year university and it is a largely underserved area,” he said.
McCann said the district has 50 acres in Otay Ranch where the proposed university could be built and that the project would potentially cost $100 million for infrastructure and $100 million for the future facility.
Brand said the university would give students the opportunity to succeed by ensuring they have the opportunity for well-paying jobs.
He said the university would mimic the district’s compact for success program in that it would work with local businesses and schools to allow students attending the university to have guaranteed jobs after graduation.
On Oct. 17, the board of trustees approved changing high school graduation requirements to match A-G curriculum benchmarks in order to develop a college-bound culture for its students.
Brand said the university could offer degrees such as nursing, teaching, hospitality and engineering.
Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Castaneda said he knows little detail about the proposed university but supports the district’s proposal, since the city has worked on the details for a university park and research center in the Eastlake area, but would not be completed until 2030 or 2040.
“From my perspective if we can assist in that venture it makes sense,” he said. “I don’t see it as competition I see it as a complement.”
McCann said he welcomes the city to work with the district to create one university.
“If we collaborate we make something that’s good into something that’s incredible,” he said. “It’s not about who does it it’s about getting it done.”
Margaret Thomas teaches human performance and wellbeing at Rancho Del Rey Middle School and said the South Bay needs a university.
“I think that Ed Brand has been a visionary for this district,” she said. “…Now he’s looking beyond and I think it’s the right thing for this community.”
McCann said that the district has the ability to get accreditation for the university, pay for the infrastructure and has access to teaching facilities to get it off the ground.
Sweetwater Education Association President Alex Anguiano said board members would need to be completely transparent to the public on the issue.
During the last campaign election, board members Arlie Ricasa, Jim Cartmill and McCann received large donations from contractors involved with the construction of Prop O.
“It’s completely inappropriate for board members to accept money from contractors,” Anguiano said. “I’d like to see the board members make a commitment to not accept campaign contributions.”
Brand said the district is conducting a study to see the interest level in the community. A questionnaire will be sent out in the next week or two and judged against competing priorities.