District seeking $282-million bond

Officials want to add new libraries, science labs, performing arts centers and athletic facilities if approved.
By Michael Miller, Daily Pilot

Five years after voters passed a $110-million school bond measure, district leaders are going back to the ballot, seeking $282 million more.

At a special meeting on Wednesday, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to place an item on the November ballot that would allow the district to issue $282 million in bonds for school renovations.

If voters approve the measure, which will appear on the special election ballot Nov. 8, district officials say they will have the resources to add new libraries and science labs, construct performing arts centers and pay for long-awaited athletic facilities at Costa Mesa’s two high schools.
During the last three years, the Measure A project — paid for by $110 million in bonds and more than $60 million in state matching funds — allowed Newport-Mesa to clean and repair its existing buildings. While Measure A work is near completion, district officials said the November proposal would go a step further by adding new facilities.
“With a few exceptions, they are bright, shiny schools that are still 20th-century schools,” said Paul Reed, deputy superintendent.

After about an hour’s discussion at the Wednesday meeting, attended by a sparse crowd of school officials and residents, board members agreed to add the ballot measure. While district officials said they had not yet established priorities in terms of construction, the proposals on Newport-Mesa’s bond project list include constructing theaters at all four high schools, upgrading technology in science classrooms and establishing a 7,000- to 10,000-square-foot teacher training center.

Mark Buchanan, the chairman of the district’s Facilities Advisory Committee, said the construction work would probably take 10 to 15 years to complete. He noted that the expanded time frame would allow the district to accommodate changing needs.

“What people want today may be different than what they’ll want in five or 10 years,” Buchanan said. “This bond gives us the ability to pursue things we can’t even imagine today.”

According to Buchanan, the new bonds will not increase residents’ property taxes beyond what they already pay for Measure A. The average annual maximum payment for Measure A is $22.35 per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value, and Buchanan said the new bonds — to mature over a period of up to 40 years — would not raise taxes above that level.

Five years ago, a number of Newport-Mesa residents opposed the passage of Measure A because they did not want to see their tax bills increase. The Orange County Young Republicans campaigned against the measure, as did Citizens for Equitable Taxation, a group consisting of residents from Newport-Mesa’s five Mello-Roos districts — areas that pay special property taxes to finance local construction.

Despite this opposition, more than enough voters favored the school renovations, passing Measure A with 72% of the vote in June 2000. The new measure will require 55% of the vote to pass.

School board president Serene Stokes said she expected the measure to pass in November. She attributed the high price tag to the rising cost of construction and materials, as well as the extended time frame for the work.

The Measure A construction, which began in March 2003, is expected to conclude by early 2007. The new renovations will take up to four times as long.

“We’re not buying all the bonds on the same day — just when tax money permits it,” Stokes explained.
In January, the district formed an ad hoc Facility Advisory Committee, consisting of about 70 district employees and community members, to make recommendations for possible changes in the schools. The committee’s mission was to look for areas in need of expansion or repair.
Most of Newport-Mesa’s sites were built in the 1950s or 1960s, around the time that the district first unified, although some date even earlier. Newport Harbor High School, which opened in 1930, has moved many of its facilities to portable classrooms in recent yearsbecause some of its old buildings have become safety hazards.
The district’s bond project list, distributed at the Wednesday meeting, calls for more changes at Newport Harbor High than at any other site. Among the proposals are to renovate Davidson Field and demolish a number of aged buildings, including the original gymnasium and the historic Robins-Loats Hall, which housed the largest theater in Newport-Mesa until it closed in 2003. The district will preserve the structure’s clock tower facade, a popular symbol for the school.

“It will be so nice to move back into that new building,” said Newport Harbor secretary Diane Tagami, who has worked out of a trailer for the last two years.

Another major proposal in the bond measure is to pay for a new swimming pool at Costa Mesa High School and an athletic stadium at Estancia High School. Costa Mesa United, a community fundraising group headed by school board member Dave Brooks, has spent the last two years raising funds for both projects.

Buchanan and Brooks said that the money from the bond measure could finish the project that Costa Mesa United began. “That is a possibility,” Brooks said. “That’s something we’re working on.” The Newport-Mesa Unified School District is proposing a $282-million bond measure to improve facilities.

The plans include:
* Demolishing the gymnasium and theater at Newport Harbor High School and replacing them with new structures
* Upgrading science classrooms throughout the district
* Constructing performing arts theaters at all four high schools in Newport-Mesa
* Revamping the campuses of Corona del Mar High School and Costa Mesa High School to better separate seventh- and eighth-grade complexes from high schools

* Establishing a 7,000- to 10,000-square-foot technology and teacher-training center to serve the entire district