Land Deal for Gym, Sports Complex Hits Snag : Parents Question ABC Schools on Price, Scope of Project Next to Whitney High

Times Staff Writer

Talks were scheduled today between ABC Unified School District board members and the City Council in an attempt to repair a rift that has developed after months of negotiations over the $2.5-million price the city would pay for the district's land.

A proposed agreement between the city and the district, which would allow some of the 17.6 acres next to Whitney High School to be used to build a gym for the district's college-preparatory school and development of a sports complex by the city on the remaining land, was put on hold last week by the board.

The board had been expected to vote on the preliminary agreement during its regular meeting last Monday. But after a group of Whitney parents protested that the district might not be getting enough money for the land, a new clause was added calling for the hiring of an appraiser to determine the price for the property at the southeast corner of 166th Street and Shoemaker Avenue.

Meeting Since January

The board's action brought angry reaction from Cerritos Councilman Daniel K. Wong, who has, with Councilman Barry A. Rabbitt, met and negotiated since January with trustees Homer Lewis and Richard Arthur in an attempt to reach agreement.

"We had at least four meetings. We both agreed on the $2.5 million. That's the maximum. We offered what it is worth to us," said Wong.

"The bottom line is they want more money. This pressure group has scared the heck out of them. Now they are asking for an appraiser," said Wong "We are not dealing with the appraiser's decision."

Board President Peggy Lee said the board had listened to the arguments by a coalition of Whitney parents who want the district to get more money for the land so it can build a more extensive facility. Then the board approved the appraisal clause. The vote was 6 to 1 with Lewis dissenting.

The parents have said they want a gym with showers and individual lockers, and a separate area for a stage and sound-proof band room. They emphasize that Whitney is the district's magnet high school that attracts its most talented students, many of whom major in the fine arts.

The district, which covers the cities of Artesia, Cerritos, Lakewood and Hawaiian Gardens, requires students to take entrance exams in the sixth grade to enter Whitney, which has classes for seventh- through 12th-graders.

Design Panel Sought

In addition to voting for the appraisal, the board also voted to continue negotiations with the city and to form a committee of school staff members, parents and board members to further explore "a creative design" for the building.

That committee, which includes assistant Supt. Virgil Hall, Whitney Principal Robert Beall, at least two parents, district architect Bill Davis and Lee was scheduled to meet today at 9 a.m., said Lee, chairwoman.

Later in the day, the negotiating teams of Lewis and Arthur for the school district and Wong and Rabbitt for the city were to confer in a closed meeting prior to the council's regular meeting. It was unclear whether the five-member council would discuss the issue at the meeting.

"We will talk about where we are. We will get their reaction to the board's vote to hire an appraiser," said Lewis.

"I'm hopeful. We have never ended negotiations," Lewis said.

Seeking 'Fair Share'

One of the Whitney parents expected to meet with the school staff, Dixie Primosch, said it was never the parents' intent "to stop negotiations, but we feel the district should get a fair share.

"We want to make sure there is sufficient money to build the gym. We are also convinced we want the sports complex. Our purpose is to make sure all citizens' needs are met, " said Primosch, vice chairwoman of the parent coalition.

Primosch said the group seeking the more elaborate building consists of about 125 parents of the 980 students at Whitney. The school, which opened in 1976, was built without a gym and the students do not have a place to shower after physical education, said Primosch.

"Students must study in the hallways during raining days because of crowded conditions," said Primosch.

Lack of Information

Primosch said the group was also dissatisfied that all of the previous meetings between the board representatives and the city had been in closed session. "All we know is what we read in the newspaper," Primosch said.

Lewis said the talks "should have remained closed" until a final agreement was worked out.

He said that he was still unwilling to disclosed the specifics of what was discussed in closed sessions.

However, Wong said, the district had leaked information to the news media and thus the city no longer feels compelled to remain silent.

The $2.5 million price for the land was chosen after architects for the city and district independently arrived at that figure as the cost of building a gymnasium, Wong said. Since then, the Whitney parents have pressed for a more elaborate facility, Wong said.

Rabbitt agreed with Wong's assessment.

"It was estimated that it would cost $2.5 million to build the gym, (including) landscaping, architectural fees and other miscellaneous costs," Rabbitt said.

Redevelopment Funds

However, the councilman said, the tentative joint agreement called for the city to purchase the 17.6 acres from the district for $2.5 million, which would come from the city's redevelopment funds, and the district was expected to take approximately 1.5 acres to build the gym.

The district also had the option to buy back an additional 1.5 acres for expansion of the building, Wong said.

The city would develop the land as a sports complex, which would include lighted outdoor baseball and soccer fields that the entire community can use, Wong said.

A group of amateur sports representatives from various organizations ranging from Little League baseball to girls' softball teams had approached the City Council in the fall of 1985 about developing a sports complex on the vacant land, said Marianne Hughlett, president of Cer-Art-Nor Bobby Sox, a girl's softball league.

"We went to the council first. Now its seems that Whitney has latched onto our coattails. I don't think things are going as well as they should," Hughlett said.

On the other hand, Whitney Principal Beall said he remains optimistic that the issue will be settled to everyone satisfaction.

"I got on the intercom the other day and told the students not to be discouraged. Differences will be settled. They will get their gym," Beall said.

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