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School project advances

St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School, which has faced a number of hurdles in its two-year attempt to remodel its campus, will seek the Planning Commission’s approval of its latest set of plans Wednesday.

“Our core guidance is always to do it the right way,” said Beverly St. Clair, a spokesperson for the school.

The South Laguna school, founded in 1957, won a ruling in county Superior Court in September that determined the state Coastal Commission did not have authority over the reconstruction.

The ruling meant the city was able to retain control of permitting for the project.


“This ruling recognizes that the Coastal Commission doesn’t have the legal authority to interfere in these local matters,” said Julia Kelly, the school’s Legacy Master Plan spokesperson and school parent.

“The school is now able to proceed with presenting its environmentally responsible construction plans to city officials, without intrusion from a state bureaucracy.”

Revised plans


“We’re pleased to present a revised plan that incorporates community input as well as suggestions from review and analysis by staff,” Principal Patricia Prerost said.

“The proposed project’s guiding principles have remained the same, to allow a 50-year Laguna Beach institution to physically and responsibly reflect the excellence of its educational and spiritual programs.”

The 50-year-old campus is in need of updating, including compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

The school plans to develop a California Mission-style campus that will be about 4,500 square feet larger, while maintaining 46% of the 6.5-acre lot as open space.

The school does not seek to increase the maximum number of students permitted; current enrollment is 204 students, but the school is permitted to have 315.

Facilities to be added include a new library, chapel, art and music rooms, science laboratories, and a new gymnasium with a regulation-size court.

“We were able to keep all of the things that we wanted to keep,” Kelly said.

“Green” elements will include overhangs to prevent heat gain, and energy-efficient lighting and climate control. Windows will utilize ocean breezes; stairways and hallways will all be on the exterior of the buildings.


Fire safety measures

Infrared heat sensors will be able to detect flame at 200 feet, which will activate water cannons and water curtains down the sides of the building that face the open space. The buildings will be non-combustible.

Non-native shrubs will also be pruned or removed.

The fire safety measures were performed in consultation with the Fire Department.

The project is also expected to improve storm run-off and student transportation issues; neighbors have complained that parents who pick up and drop off their children often back up onto Cardinal Way.

Recent traffic mitigation efforts by the school have resulted in some decrease of congestion.

A traffic study recommended staggered start times, additional vehicle storage areas and the implementation of a carpool system.


In order to address water quality issues, pipelines will direct storm runoff to two filtered storm drains; in addition, the quantity of impervious ground cover will only increase by 2%.

Less grading required

“Community input resulted in a reduction of impact to native vegetation from .38 acres to .17 acres,” Kelly said.

“By reducing impact to the back slope, we are proposing a more environmentally sensitive plan, and we have also reduced our soil export by 6,431 cubic yards. This will reduce construction traffic.”

The city issued a stop-work order to the school’s construction in August when it was found that construction vehicles were parked illegally on Coast Highway and that too many pounds of gravel had been removed from the campus that day.

Irregularities in the public notification process and the discovery of a threatened bird, the gnatcatcher, on the property have also posed stumbling blocks for the school.

If the city approves the current plans, construction of the school is set to begin in the summer.

“I think the city has given it a ton of analysis, and the guidance has been very welcome,” Kelly said.

“It’s really going to be beautiful. It will be an asset to the community.”