Students will start classes at Coastline Community College's newly opened Newport Beach campus in a few days.
For years, pupils at Early College High School in Costa Mesa also anticipated moving to the gleaming new site with ocean views.
While it was under construction, Kristina Dresher's son asked her to drive by so he could sneak a look. When his grandmother visited from South Carolina, he even made sure she saw it, Dresher said.
"I was excited because he was excited," said the mother said of the Early College freshman.
On Tuesday, Dresher attended a Newport-Mesa Unified School District board meeting with about 25 other students and parents from Early College.
She told trustees that her son was painted a picture of what Early College would be.
"But a lot of the things that he was promised aren't coming true. He expected that really cool campus that we drove by a million times. And he is not there," Dresher said.
When he and about 270 classmates go back to Early College on Monday, they will remain at the campus in Mesa Verde where the school has operated since 2006.
Coastline's new campus isn't the right fit, Newport-Mesa officials have said.
When construction on the $48-million location began in 2010, Newport-Mesa immediately had concerns about the design, Assistant Supt. of Secondary Education Charles Hinman said Wednesday.
"I think it's fair to say that the Coastline Community College facility was built for Coastline Community College," Hinman said — which was appropriate because the project was funded by the college's bond measure, he added.
But from the beginning, Coastline's design included features such as bus drop-off points specifically for Early College. However, critical elements didn't work with the high-school-style campus Newport-Mesa wanted, Hinman said.
Early College needed larger classrooms and a different layout of offices and instructional space, he explained.
"We didn't figure that out until way too far into process," said Martha Parham, a spokeswoman for the Coast Community College District, adding that construction was almost done as more concerns surfaced.
Nevertheless, Newport-Mesa officials did not decide until 2012 that they absolutely needed a new plan.
"We still believed up until the beginning of this school year that it could have been a viable option to go into that building," Hinman said.
For the first time, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District will also directly foot the bill for Early College students' instruction.
On Tuesday, trustees approved paying Coastline up to $127,500 for instructional services for Early College's spring semester.
That money will create 17 100-level Coastline classes at the Mesa Verde campus in which Early College students will enroll.
Until this semester, Coastline leased the Mesa Verde space from Newport-Mesa. Instructors taught college-level classes to Early College pupils alongside Coastline students just as they will this spring.
But that instruction was funded by a $500,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that expired before this school year, Parham said.
The two district's school boards have now twice approved semester-long contracts to keep Early College operating, but the high school is without a long-term college partner.
"As [school board] President [Dana] Black said, there is a cold hard reality that to have Early College High School, you have to have a college," Hinman said during Tuesday's board meeting.
He has been searching for that new college.
"I can tell you that I probably speak to a potential partner on a bi-daily bases. So there's a lot of interest out there," he said.
Newport-Mesa's school board has loudly supported Early College.
"I am not about to see it fail or go by the wayside," Trustee Martha Fluor said Tuesday. "This program and the philosophy of this board has always been to meet the need of individual students regardless of the cost. This program fits the need of a specific kind of student who doesn't function well on a high-school campus."
But one member believes she, other board members and parents have not been kept adequately up-to-date on possible long-term plans.
Board Member Katrina Foley said staff has taken it upon themselves to put short-term contracts with Coastline on the agenda without briefing the board on long-term solutions.
"It is not fair. In the summer when this contract expires — this contract expires in June — if we don't have a plan in place, what do we do for September? We need to do something to come up with a more formal plan to save this program," Foley said.
She asked staff to prepare a report in the next 30 days about long-term possibilities and potential partners, but Trustee David Brooks objected, saying employees had enough to focus on in their search.
"It sounds easy to say just get another partner," he said. "It is a very complicated issue."
Hinman said much the same Wednesday, warning that a college essentially must relocate part of their campus to Mesa Verde.
The school board has allocated more than half a million dollars in recent months to modernize that location. That campus, Hinman said, could be Newport-Mesa's contribution to a partnership.
Unless a new college signs on, school board trustees will have to approve a new short-term contract in the fall or find a new way to keep the program running.
In the meantime, parents wait.
"My son didn't fall into Early College, he was recruited," Dresher told the board. "He was made promises. He was painted this beautiful picture. And his reality is not the picture that was painted for him. My responsibility as his parent is to hope that he can see a little glimpse of that over the next four years."