Group Fails to Meet 1st Payment on Stadium : Moorpark: A citizens panel falls short, leaving the district to front the money owed on the high school project.

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When the Moorpark school board agreed a year ago to take out a $600,000 loan on behalf of a citizens group building an athletic complex at Moorpark High School, members of the group assured the board that they would be able to raise enough money to repay the loan.

"We've come to ask you as leaders to take a chance," Patty Waters, coordinator of the Moorpark Athletic Community Complex committee, told the board.

The two school board members who did not support the financing believed it was indeed chancy that a well-intentioned but inexperienced band of fund-raisers would be able to cover an annual bill of roughly $124,000 for the next five years.

And now, for the moment at least, those fears have been realized. The first payment deadline came and went Thursday and the district was left to front nearly all of the money owed.

With Supt. Tom Duffy and other key school and MACC officials on vacation, even school board members said they were unsure exactly what money was used to make the payment. The only thing that was clear, they said, is that very little of it came from the MACC committee.

"I think it was an imprudent decision on the part of the school board to commit public funds to a loan of that magnitude," said school board member Clint Harper, who abstained from the vote on the loan and later voted against allocating any of the money.

"We had no kind of financial projections on income from the MACC committee that had any credibility. We essentially went on good faith," Harper said.

But MACC representatives and board members who supported the loan still hold out hope that the committee will be able to repay the district, and point to a new, 6,000-seat high school stadium as evidence that this citizens group knows how to get things done.

"That stadium wouldn't be there unless MACC was here, and unless the school district agreed to help us," said Barbara Loczi, a member of the committee. "No matter what, this community needed this."

Board member Greg Barker, who voted for the loan and still supports the decision, agreed.

"I think that the risk isn't as great as it's being perceived," he said. "I would offset that with the students who are benefiting from all of this. Certainly, the entire student body at Moorpark High School is benefiting from this right now."

The MACC committee movement began about 18 months ago in the form of some highly motivated residents who looked at the city's high school on Tierra Rejada Road and wanted to build a state-of-the-art athletic complex alongside it.

The price was estimated at $3 million and the laundry list of planned facilities was just as ambitious.

A stadium, a track, two lighted softball fields with seating, an Olympic-size pool, a weight training facility, baseball diamonds and four tennis courts all were elements of the group's plan.

Santa Monica-based Urban West Communities had already donated $580,000 to the school district to support construction of the football stadium, so the MACC committee made that project its first goal.

The Urban West donation covered most of the grading and sodding of the football field, which was used by the Moorpark High football team last season.

But the seating around the field was still temporary, and as the season wound to an end the committee concerned itself with acquiring the concrete and bleachers that would eventually hold the planned 6,000 seats.

With no other way to immediately pay for that part of the project, the MACC committee asked the district to allocate some of the loan proceeds to install the permanent seating.

The board agreed on a 3-2 vote in November, with Harper and board President Pam Casto dissenting.

"The thought was, from the very beginning, that this was going to be district-financed and that the MACC committee was going to do everything in their power to pay the district back and make these payments," Barker said.

"We hope that this committee is going to come through with the money. But we haven't seen it yet," Barker said.

Harper and Castro had argued that the stadium construction should proceed only as fast as the committee could pay for it, and argued against the district, in essence, fronting the money and hoping to someday get it back.

"We could have supported them in a more prudent manner," Harper said. "We had very firm statements from MACC and from our superintendent that somehow they would raise the money. Somehow was very vague. There were a number of activities planned, but none of them were something that you would want to hang your hat on for a $600,000 loan."

Loczi said the group has raised more than $380,000 in cash and in-kind donations thus far and has succeeded in bringing the badly needed stadium to the city.

The group is still working to organize a benefit country-Western concert it hopes will become an annual event and provide a badly needed cash infusion toward their efforts.

"It's a huge commitment that we've asked them to take on on behalf of this community," Loczi said. "But I firmly believe that we're going to raise the money."

School board member Tom Baldwin said that even if MACC is unable to raise the funds it promised, the district would still come out ahead, because of the facility the association has spawned.

"Even if we never get another penny from MACC, I think it was money well spent," Baldwin said. "Because I want to have a comprehensive high school and I'm a firm believer that sports play an integral part in that."

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