Estancia High School in Costa Mesa is slated to have its pool refilled for about $104,000 in two months as a delayed and costlier-than-anticipated aquatic center project inches forward.
During a two-hour special meeting Thursday morning, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board unanimously approved moving forward with the aquatic center all at once after Tim Holcomb, district assistant superintendent and chief operating officer, said there are enough funds, though "it's getting tight."
The project includes an Olympic-size 50-meter pool, a coaches' office, a team room, pool restrooms, a snack bar, site work and furnishings, a lunch area and shade structures. The latter items weren't initially included in the project, which had been estimated to cost $7 million.
It's now estimated to cost $8.4 million, plus $243,891 for the shade structures, according to a 40-page report provided by Aliso Viejo-based consultant Cumming Corp.
District staff will return to the school board in February with a timeline for the project and financing options.
Thursday's meeting served as a sounding board for community members who criticized Newport-Mesa for draining Estancia's existing pool — an L-shaped structure 25 yards long on one side and about 27 yards on the other — in June, before construction bids were completed for the aquatic center.
Higher-than-expected bids delayed groundbreaking on the center, which was scheduled to open for the fall 2018 sports season. Completion is now expected in 2019, district officials said last month.
"We're working hard to get … to a level where we can compete, but the absence of a pool is damaging," water polo coach Mitch White said Thursday.
In December, an online petition called on the district to refill the pool before the 2018 swim season.
Supt. Fred Navarro said the district is investigating who gave the OK to drain the pool, but he said that information would be confidential because it is a personnel matter.
Trustees voiced dissatisfaction with district staff for providing inconsistent information on whether the pool could be refilled.
Staff had said refilling it could be complicated because the pool's pumps had been removed.
But a Jan. 4 letter from Vista-based architect Arch Pac indicated the pool's mechanical equipment is still in place.
The main concern is replacing deteriorating plaster, the letter states.
Trustee Martha Fluor said the contradiction "boggles my mind."
"I'm very angry about this," Fluor said to cheers from the audience Thursday.
Board President Vicki Snell said staff needs to rebuild confidence with the community and the school board.