Costa Mesa's City Council is poised to spend millions of dollars replacing Costa Mesa High School's much-maligned track and field, according to city staff and council members.
Parents and coaches have lampooned the current facility, as dirt, dying grass and broken water mains continually cause injuries and disrupt practices, they say.
Tuesday night, the City Council will vote on an agreement with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District that would kick off the design process to build an all-weather replacement using city money.
Newport-Mesa would also have to approve the agreement. Its next school board meeting is March 12.
The design includes a synthetic track and field, fencing, lighting and a limited amount of seating.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and City CEO Tom Hatch envision the facility as quasi-parkland funded by $3 million to $4 million of city money.
The two bodies would split upkeep costs based on the school's use during the day and the public's use after hours
Community games could be programmed throughout the evening, and the public would have access any time the district doesn't need it, Hatch said.
"When we ultimately build this and light it at night, it's going to be a magnet for the public to come out and do exercise," Hatch said.
That, plus a benefit to the school, they say, is the reason taxpayers should invest.
"At the end of the day, we want to be the destination for every new family in Orange County," Mensinger said, adding he believes attractive schools and facilities are the No. 1 way to achieve that.
City funds, school land
The agreement up for a vote would hold Newport-Mesa to a tight design timeline, funded by $15,000 from the city.
Within six months, the school board would receive a report on design concepts and what is feasible at the site.
"We're not looking to do this in the next 10 years. We're not looking to do this in the next five years. We're looking to do this as soon as possible because it's a priority of our City Council," said Mensinger, who last year floated the idea of allocating funds for the project.
With the city driving the process, school district staff said they had to insist on taking two steps to even do a feasibility study.
"It's not just a, 'Gee, thank you very much for your offer, thanks, let's build it,' " said Paul Reed, Newport-Mesa's deputy superintendent.
He stressed it's a multi-million dollar, long-term agreement that the city has spearheaded without much school board input.
"While they've spent quite a bit of time determining what it is they need, we haven't spent an equal amount of time determining what we would require for the educational program," he said. "And the educational program comes first."
Educational questions and any price tag [Newport-Mesa] incurs may loom large, he said.
"What if the things the school district needs for the educational facilities are another million dollars?" he asked.
But Mensinger believes any other school-related construction could come later and on the district's dime.
"Our interest is to move forward with the track and our needs," he said. "Ultimately, If the district wants to put in a snack bar or a locker room for some of their other purposes, then they could latch onto our core interests [but] they're going to pay for it. The city's not going to build a locker room that would serve the district."
Most of the school board supports the project, Hatch contends, but there's yet to be any substantial public discussion among them on the topic.
At least one member, though, has been exceptionally vocal about Mesa's facilities.
"From the day I was sworn in on the school board, I've been trying to get this item agendized," school board member Katrina Foley said, referring to rebuilding, not necessarily this particular plan.
It was part of the reason she gave up a City Council seat to take one on the school board in 2010.
Now she sees it closer than ever to happening.
"This is a huge opportunity," she said.
Mensinger and Hatch say their design is one the school district should have no problem accepting — simple: a field, a track, lights, fences, seating.
"We want to get it done," the councilman said.