Costa Mesa city administrators on Tuesday recommended funding only a fraction of a proposal to revamp the athletics field at Costa Mesa High School from the next fiscal year's budget.
The recommendation surprised some of the project's supporters, but city officials said the $500,000 planned to be appropriated in the 2013-14 fiscal year is just the beginning of their contribution toward the total cost.
In March, Costa Mesa proposed paying $3.5 million to build a new football field and track at Mesa, but did not pledge to fund the expense all at once.
In exchange for the city's investment, the public would get to use the field during non-school hours.
Costa Mesa and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District both approved an agreement to study what was feasible at the site and are waiting for the results.
Past that, there's no official cost estimate for the project or any binding agreement about what either side will pay.
"There hasn't been a complete discussion because the complete discussion has to follow the feasibility study," Newport-Mesa Deputy Supt. Paul Reed said.
City Hall has repeatedly said it will pay for a defined set of improvements it believes will cost $3.5 million, with any additional costs being fielded by the district.
The city has already appropriated an additional $300,000 to design the project, said Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz said.
But Costa Mesa can't start using that money until the feasibility study is complete and the two governing bodies agree on a direction for the project.
"It's very unlikely that we will have all the issues associated with the feasibility study resolved this year," Munoz said.
School board member Katrina Foley said she and other Mesa boosters were surprised at the proposal to wait on fully funding the renovation.
"If it's not in this year's budget and you get the plans all approved and you don't have the money to move forward, it's just a piece of paper and it doesn't do any good," she said.
City CEO Tom Hatch said Wednesday that Costa Mesa is considering ways of "creatively funding" the project.
He couldn't say if that meant fundraising from boosters, asking for the school district to contribute or other avenues.
The $500,000 appropriation still has to be officially approved by the City Council, as would the rest of the $3.5 million.
"Three votes are what makes things happen," said Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, who has supported the project.
Hatch said he can't put a timeline on the city's contributions or the overall project.
"That's where I don't have all the answers," Hatch said. "The challenge is to continue to do all we can do to fund the project. But there's lots of demands, lots of needs."