Huntington Beach City Council approves sale of former Gisler school site

An AYSO Region 56 U14 girls' extra team practices on the soccer fields at the site of the former Gisler Middle School.
An AYSO Region 56 U14 girls’ extra team practices on the soccer fields at the site of the former Gisler Middle School on Sept. 28.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Huntington Beach City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved the sale of the site that formerly housed Gisler Middle School and Brethren Christian School.

Both schools have since been discontinued, and the Huntington Beach City School District is in the process of selling the property to Brookfield Homes, which plans to build an 85-unit residential property on the 13.9-acre property at 21141 Strathmoor Lane. The deal, which would create two-story single-family residences and net the district $42 million, is in escrow.

Coaches, administrators and players from AYSO Region 56, which serves south Huntington Beach, showed up to the chambers to protest the decision. The site currently holds the only two full-sized and lighted soccer fields in the region.

But Brookfield has promised to sweeten the deal for the region, pledging $500,000 — double the originally proposed $250,000 — to find an alternate site with lights. City Manager Oliver Chi said the money would be required to be paid to the city before the building permits were issued.

The replacement fields could be put at nearby Edison Park, which is currently undergoing renovations and recently installed a temporary skate park.

“There are options here with the city, and we are really excited about those options because we already started going down this path earlier this year,” Mayor Kim Carr said. “To have AYSO be a part of that discussion, as far as creating these lighted fields at Edison Park, really to me seems like the natural solution. But in the short term, we have opportunities to continue to work with the school district and find other areas, to make sure that these kids have a place as soon as Gisler becomes unavailable.

“We need to all be in this together. We need to be working with AYSO, the school district, the city, because ultimately we want what is best for the community and for our children.”

Gisler Middle School operated at the site from 1973 to 1986, followed by Brethren Christian from 2001 to 2019. In October of that year, the Huntington Beach City School District Board of Trustees adopted a resolution declaring the school as surplus property with the intent to sell.

Last month, the Huntington Beach Planning Commission voted 5-1 to approve the project.

The district plans to use the money from the sale to modernize Sowers Middle School and pay off some long-term debt. District Supt. Leisa Winston said in an email to the City Council that HBCSD continues to work closely with Brookfield, the AYSO and city staff to determine alternate sites for the lighted fields.

“The funds from the sale of Gisler will be critical to the district ... to create the same 21st century learning environments at Sowers Middle School that are present or in process in the rest of HBCSD schools,” Winston wrote in the email.

Among the District 56 coaches expressing concerns was Chris Kluwe, who played football at Los Alamitos High and UCLA and was an NFL punter from 2005-2013. Kluwe, who said he got his start in AYSO soccer, was flanked by his Under-12 Girls “Extra” team behind him.

“The thing I have to tell my kids every single practice is, ‘Watch out for gopher holes,’” he said. “It’s a miracle that we haven’t had a broken ankle yet. We need not just fields, but quality fields.”

Ann McCarthy, the District 56 commissioner, told the Council that the Gisler fields become impacted as there is less and less daylight available. She asked for a “concrete assurance” from the city that it would assist in replacing the lighting and full-size fields.

“I believe in creating communities in Huntington Beach, and I believe that additional housing can be a positive,” she said. “But I fiercely believe in Region 56 and other youth sports programs. I believe that recreational space and programs like AYSO are an essential part of what has made this area such a great community, and there should be a concerted effort to make sure these are not lost.”

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