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Golf Magnate Sinks Millions in School

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Sue Fox is a Times correspondent. Eric Sondheimer is a Times staff writer

When David G. Price bought his first golf course, about 30 years ago in Yorba Linda, he clinched the deal with a $1 down payment.

Today, Price’s emerald-green empire spans 280 golf courses in the United States and England. His business, American Golf Corp., is the largest golf management company in the nation, with expected revenues of about $650 million this year.

No longer needing to start small by plunking down a dollar, Price, 66, is the driving force behind Oaks Christian High School, a new, $30-million private coed school rising from a dirt field next to the Ventura Freeway. By way of his family foundation, Price has already poured about $12 million into the project.

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With a goal of becoming an academic as well as athletic powerhouse in the Conejo Valley, the four-year, nondenominational school is scheduled to open in September 2000 with ninth and 10th grades. With few private high schools in the Conejo Valley, Oaks Christian could become a major player in attracting local students who must drive to the west San Fernando Valley to attend such schools as Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino and Chaminade College Preparatory in West Hills.

The new school is being constructed--before a backdrop of cars whizzing along the Ventura Freeway--on half the former site of the Eaton Corp. facility on La Tienda Road. Last year, the Calvary Community Church bought the 35-acre property for $18 million and split it into two lots. Calvary then sold half the land to the Price Family Foundation, run by Price and his former wife, Dallas, for $10 million.

“It became a synergetic marriage,” said Gaye Pollinger, the church’s publicity coordinator. The church is now erecting a massive new worship auditorium next to the school.

Both the Prices and the church, who share evangelical Christian roots, seem pleased with the outcome. Church officials had hoped to sell the neighboring land to someone with similar spiritual values.

For his part, Price had been scouring Los Angeles’ Westside for several years, initially inspired by a desire to found a Christian high school that his grandchildren could attend. When he heard about the Westlake Village site, he thought it was too far away.

Then he visited. And the man who built a fortune leasing ailing municipal golf courses and sprucing them up saw a future in the acres of open space. The fact that the spot was across the freeway from a golf course his company once managed didn’t hurt either.

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“Did you ever fall in love?” Price said. “That’s exactly what it was. I looked at it and I knew.”

Price said that his foundation will fund about half the total cost of building Oaks Christian and that the school will seek donations for the rest. The Prices have also contributed to a Christian primary school, Calvary Christian School in Pacific Palisades.

In addition to attracting Conejo Valley students, the school hopes to draw from Ventura and even the Westside, said Kris Thabit, vice president of American Golf, who is coordinating the project for the Price Family Foundation.

“If we provide a good product, we can draw from everywhere,” Thabit said.

The athletic facilities under construction will make Oaks Christian stand out immediately. There will be a lighted 2,000-seat football/soccer stadium, an all-weather track, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a 1,300-seat gymnasium, plus baseball and softball diamonds.

“It’s going to be the Santa Margarita of the Conejo Valley,” said one local coach, referring to the powerful Catholic high school in Mission Viejo.

Classrooms will be wired for videoconferencing and Internet access, Price said. A performing arts facility is also planned.

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Harvard-Westlake in Studio City--Thabit’s alma mater--is being used as a model for the new high school. Thabit was an All-Southern Section linebacker at Harvard-Westlake in 1983 and later attended Harvard University. “We’re looking at a very balanced program of academics, athletics and spiritual enrichment,” he said.

Tuition costs at Oaks Christian are not yet known, but preliminary projections are between $8,000 and $9,000 a year. Maximum enrollment is estimated at 1,200 students.

The school recently hired a headmaster, Jeff Woodcock, from Santa Fe Christian School in Solana Beach. Woodcock spent nine years as superintendent for Sun Valley Village Christian Schools during the 1980s and has worked for 25 years in private education.

The values Price said he hopes to foster include order, discipline, honor and kindness.

“When Jesus was preaching to the disciples, he was talking about helping the needy and the hungry and the poor and the ill, and he said when you do these things, you do them for me,” Price said. “I think it’s important to have that teaching going on at the same time you’re teaching biology.”

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