Laguna Beach to launch community programs this spring at former school site

The former St. Catherine of Siena school site in Laguna Beach.
Laguna Beach plans to begin offering some interim community uses at the former St. Catherine of Siena school site, which the city acquired in December.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

With its acquisition of the former St. Catherine of Siena School in the rearview mirror, Laguna Beach is preparing to roll out some interim uses for the property.

Laguna Beach agreed to purchase the closed school site from the Diocese of Orange for $23 million in the latter half of last year, closing escrow on the deal in December.

The property — located at 30516 Coast Highway — includes four buildings that account for about 39,500 square feet of indoor space. The facilities include a gymnasium, a chapel, two additional buildings and an outdoor athletic field.

Some of the programming planned for the gym in the spring includes adult drop-in basketball, indoor pickleball and gymnastics classes. In the summer, portable skate ramps could also be brought into one of the courtyards.

“I would like to see if you could talk to some kids,” Councilman Mark Orgill said regarding the plan for a portable skate park. “I don’t know if that includes a halfpipe or what you’re thinking, but it would be a shame to see it not be something that’s completely utilized.”

There will also be the potential for cultural arts programs to utilize the stage in the gym, as well as for weddings to be held in the chapel.

Despite some members of the public calling for use of the facility to be delayed until the community could tour the property, the Laguna Beach City Council voted 4-1 to implement some interim uses. There will be two or three open house events in February, according to a staff report.

City staff proposed some municipal operations in the main building, including a plan to have the fire administration move from City Hall to the first floor of the building. Additionally, some classrooms will be made available for local nonprofits and community groups to rent through a use license agreement.

To prepare the property for community use, city staff requested hiring a recreation supervisor and a maintenance worker, both for full-time positions.

The Laguna Beach City Council did not approve a recommendation to have the athletic field converted into overflow parking.
The Laguna Beach City Council did not approve a recommendation to have the athletic field at 30516 Coast Highway converted into overflow parking.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The council rejected a recommendation by staff to have the athletic field converted into overflow parking. City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said the property currently has 44 parking spaces.

“I don’t think we should make any changes to the field, parking-wise,” Mayor Bob Whalen said. “We don’t know what, ultimately, we’re going to have down there and whether we need the field.”

Long-term uses for the property will be determined through a master plan for city facilities.

“I find this to be disrespectful to the community,” Councilman George Weiss said before casting the lone dissenting vote. “You’re not even proposing these programs until spring of 2023. You’re having a meeting in February. … Drop-in basketball at 9 a.m.? You guys going to go be there? I’ll be there if you want to play one-on-one. I just don’t see that happening, adult drop-in basketball.

“All this stuff has to be organized, it has to be advertised, and you have to ask the community what they want. We’re not asking them. I don’t mind any of these things. I think they’re fine. Once you put the fire department on the first floor, they’re going to be there forever. … We know interim uses turn into full-time units.”

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