Several youth groups in Orange and Villa Park are furious over an Orange Unified School District proposal to charge them for the use of school fields.
The district has also threatened to tear down snack bars and dugouts at the fields unless the groups bring them up to building codes.
When the school district unveiled plans to levy a user fee and inspect the organizations' structures last year, it met unexpectedly strong opposition. Because of the uproar, school board members formed a Fiscal Advisory Council to review the issue.
The advisory council formed a subcommittee, the Use of Facilities Committee, that will meet with parents and dozens of local sports leagues representatives Monday to discuss the matter in an effort to come up with recommendations for the school board.
More than a dozen youth groups including the Villa Park Little League, the Orange YMCA and various soccer, basketball, swimming and softball leagues have united to form the Orange Youth Council to speak on behalf of the more than 17,000 children who they say will be affected.
Officials of the Villa Park Little League, which has about 600 children playing on the fields at Cerro Villa Middle School, said imposing a fee on its members would financially drain the nonprofit organization.
"This year alone, we've spent $15,000 on the the maintenance of the fields and a new sprinkler system," said Robert Camargo, league vice president.
"We will not pay for the use of the fields," Camargo said.
The Little League teams have played on the Cerro Villa fields every season for the past 29 years without charge. Each year, the organization spends an average of $10,000 mowing the grass, filling gopher holes, chalking baseball diamonds and seeding fields, Camargo said.
Camargo said the league uses the fields at Cerro Villa five days a week for three months each year.
The snack bar and the dugouts, which were donated to the league 18 years ago and met building codes then, have been targeted for removal, according to Camargo.
Other youth sports' groups that use other schools' fields in the district were similarly alerted to the possible destruction of their buildings if they didn't meet codes.
But plans to enforce the codes have been halted until the Use of Facilities Committee comes up with a revised district policy on the matter.
District officials said they believe the fees, ranging from $7.28 per square foot per day to $1,250 per event per day, may be dropped. But officials said buildings will have to comply with state building codes or the district could be forced to shut down schools.
"Someone from the Office of the State Architect could walk on school property at any time and if they find nonconforming buildings, they can shut down the school," said Frank Remkiewicz, construction projects manager for the district. "That's the problem we're looking at, and it's a safety and liability issue too.
"We're working diligently with youth sports representatives to develop agreeable policies and appropriate fee structures though," he added.
Peggy Hunter, director of Orange-Villa Park Softball, is distrusting.
Her organization keeps two 20-year-old trailers on the fields behind the district offices where the teams play.
"If we got new trailers or repaired these, it would cost at least $10,000," she said. "That's too expensive. There's no way we could afford it. We already spend $10,000 a year patching gopher holes, fixing fences and sprinklers and mowing the lawn."
David Parker, chairman of the district's Use of Facilities Committee, said the matter is highly emotional.
"The original proposal was very vague," said Jenifer Rhynes, chief executive officer of Orange YMCA, who also serves on the committee. "I think the district was shortsighted and it touched a sensitive spot but I think they are cognizant that the community is concerned."
That's why the school district Board of Trustees decided to postpone a decision on the policy, Board President Lila Beavans said.
"The athletic groups have spent huge amounts of money, so it isn't as though they have had free use of the fields. But there is a controversy because the school administration feels it needs additional funds," she said.
The cash-strapped district faces an estimated $2.5-million shortfall in next year's budget.
Regarding the youth groups' reaction to the district's proposal to charge for using school fields, Remkiewicz said: "It's much to-do about nothing at this point.
"Our first and foremost concern is to the education of our children. Secondarily, it is to the children as they play in non-school environments. We should be able to all come together and realize that," he added.