Speakers at a Wednesday groundbreaking ceremony for the long-awaited Castaic High School talked at length about the barriers and obstacles that had been overcome over the past few decades to get to the point where construction could begin on the project.
But to get to the ceremony, about 100 attendees had to go through several more obstacles, in the form of temporary barriers set up by Castaic residents angered by the fact the district was using the private Romero Canyon Road to get to the groundbreaking site.
Many of the residents who turned out to demonstrate said they have no problem with the high school itself, but questioned its location and the type of impact it would have on their community.
“We’re not opposed to the high school,” said Castaic resident Marvin Metcalf, who brought his tractor out to help block the road. “But we want to do it safely and we don’t want our property rights violated.”
A group of residents used trashcans, vehicles and Metcalf’s tractor to block Romero Canyon Road, temporarily halting access to the ceremony.
The residents also contracted a security company, Copper Eagle Patrol and Security, to tell those traveling on the road that they were trespassing.
But traffic along the road was allowed, said Gail Pinsker, a spokeswoman for the William S. Hart Union High School District, and the district has an easement that gives them legal access to the thoroughfare.
“We can use it just how we used it today,” Pinsker said Wednesday.
But residents were insistent the district has no such right.
Castaic resident Glen Ennis said those who live on Romero Canyon Road had been in contact with the district about the issue, but were unable to come to a satisfactory resolution.
“It’s been a fight and we really feel that we’ve been screwed,” Ennis said.
Pinsker said about 100 people turned out for the groundbreaking event Wednesday, but that a few people who wanted to attend turned back when they saw the residents’ blockade.
“It’s disappointing that a couple of people we wanted to share this moment with were unable to get through due to some residents blockading the road that we have access to,” Pinsker said.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Hart district Superintendent Rob Challinor said he wanted all the residents to know that Romero Canyon Road will not be used for construction traffic or for student traffic once the school is open in 2016.
“This is America,” Challinor said. “People have the right to express their opinions. But we also have the right to build a high school to serve the citizens of Castaic.”
The idea of a high school in Castaic has been proposed in one form or another for more than 20 years, according to Hart district board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine.
Mercado-Fortine, who is a long-time resident of the Castaic area, said the groundbreaking represents a “dream come true.”
“It is said that good things come to those who wait and, my gosh, have we waited,” Mercado-Fortine said.
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich also spoke on the background of the project and the years-long search for an appropriate site for the school.
“Those roadblocks have been encountered along the way,” Antonovich said. “But today we’ve reached our destination.”
Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, praised Hart district officials and board members for their perseverance on the project.
“This board had the courage to vote and do the right thing for the students of this district,” Wilk said.
From here, construction will begin on the school itself with the goal of opening it to an inaugural class of ninth-grade students for the 2016-2017 school year, according to district officials.
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