Joint-Use Plan Gives School Free City Land


When Santa Ana school officials identified a piece of district-owned property as the site of a proposed high school a few years ago, they had only about five acres to build on--not nearly enough room for academic buildings and athletic facilities.

But when the new high school opens in 2004, it will include a gymnasium, an auditorium, a football/soccer field with a track, softball and baseball diamonds, a parking structure and maybe even a swimming pool.

The athletic facilities will be built on an additional 20 acres of city-owned land: an undeveloped parcel on adjoining Centennial Regional Park made available through a joint-use agreement signed last year between the school district and the city. In exchange for the land, the public will be allowed to use the sports facilities, built by the school district, during non-school hours.

While schools and adjoining parks often share land in newer communities, the land-starved Santa Ana Unified School District is looking toward forging similar agreements on a regular basis. And it started on a grand scale with the planned $40-million high school next to Centennial Regional Park.

The school district hopes to set up a comprehensive joint-use policy that would allow broader community use of the district's gymnasiums, auditoriums and athletic fields.

A comprehensive joint-use agreement, Deputy Supt. John Bennett said, would "address how we're going to use our fields and grounds so the population of Santa Ana has a safe place to play and one that's well maintained."

So far, City Manager David N. Ream said, "Newer communities [have been] leaders in joint programming of parks and schools because they have a chance to do it from the start."

The Irvine Unified School District is considered one of the leaders in cooperative agreements and joint development of property.

"Historically this has worked really well," said Don Chadd, director of business services for Irvine Unified, whose districtwide "quid pro quo use of facilities" policy with the city dates to 1975.

The most dramatic example, he said, is the city's construction of the $2-million Heritage Aquatic Center in the park next to Irvine High School in 1978.

The center, which includes an Olympic-size swimming pool and a diving pool, is used by students from Irvine and Northwood high schools. In exchange, Chadd said, the city gets to run its basketball leagues in the schools' gyms.

Chadd said the school district and the city also attempt to build elementary and middle schools so that they they are adjacent to community parks.

"The result," he said, "is more grass area."

When Chaparral Elementary School in Ladera Ranch in South County opens this fall, a joint-use agreement between the Capistrano Unified School District and the Ladera Ranch Community Assn. will allow students to use adjoining Chaparral Park for science field trips, outdoor reading and other teacher-led activities.

"There is no fence separating the park from the school grounds, so it looks like one giant area combined," said principal Kevin Rafferty.

Santa Ana already has limited joint-use agreements with the city at other campuses. At Spurgeon Intermediate School, for example, the city installed soccer-field lights in exchange for being able to schedule city after-school recreation programs on the fields.

But joint use at the new high school will be on a grander scale.

"It's one of the real outstanding cases of city and school district cooperation in the state of California," said City Manager Ream.

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