Sports stadiums or theater?

After more than an hour of heated debate Tuesday night, Newport-Mesa school officials failed to decide how to allocate $15.8 million of one-time facilities money among the district's high schools.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District board of trustees voted 4 to 3 to postpone discussion about the funds until Nov. 1 and create an equity committee to assist the board with divvying up the the amount remaining from the original $25 million in facilities money. The trustees previously approved $9.2 million to go to Newport Harbor High School for its sports stadium.

"The board keeps stringing everyone along," Trustee Katrina Foley said. "It's very frustrating. I feel like I've failed the community at this point."

Deputy Supt. Paul Reed, the district's chief business official, presented a breakdown of the funds and requested that trustees begin to make decisions to earmark the money.

The limited pool of money was slated in July to help fund the district's next tier of projects, which consists of sports stadiums at Costa Mesa and Corona del Mar high schools and a theater at Estancia High School.

Reed outlined the costs for each of the proposed stadiums: $6.5 million to $12.5 million for CdM and $7.5 million to $11.5 million for Mesa. The estimates vary depending on the amount of seating the stadiums will have and whether they include things like concession stands and bathrooms. Estancia's performing arts center is projected to cost $27 million.

The district doesn't have enough money to fund all of the projects.

However, Estancia's theater is one of a dozen projects specifically promised under Measure F, a $282-million bond initiative approved by voters in 2005. The stadiums were not promised under Measure F.

Reed told the board that the theater won't be funded until 2020, when he anticipates the district will collect Measure F money.

Trustee Martha Fluor expressed concern that the money isn't being allocated equitably and that Estancia will have to wait years for its performing arts center.

"One high school is being ignored," she said. "We've said the kids at Estancia don't matter because they already have an athletic field."

Throughout the discussion, Foley and Fluor, as well as several of the other trustees, yelled at and talked over one another as community members looked on in disbelief.

"I'm unglued and I'm about ready to walk out," Fluor said.

Trustees spoke about splitting the money among the three schools evenly, leading to talks about how much to CdM and Costa Mesa would have to raise to complete the projects.

Foley initially suggested a 50-50 split between Mesa and CdM but didn't get enough votes to have that idea approved.

"We don't have the funding source in Costa Mesa," she said. "We don't have parents that make that type of money in our zone."

If the board chooses to build stadiums at Mesa and CdM, the district will have stadiums at all four of its high schools, which Reed calls "unusual" for most districts.

Greg Barnett of Costa Mesa addressed the board during the meeting to show his support for the stadium projects. His son, Kyle Barnett, 18, recently graduated from Mesa and joined the Marine Corps.

Kyle played football all four years and attributes his success in Marine training to the values and fitness level he achieved during football.

"I know it's a huge expense, but it's worth it for the students and athletes," Barnett said.

Both of Barnett's sons who played football for Mesa sustained knee injuries while on the grass field, which he said is in dire need of improvements.

Frank Albers, the outside linebackers coach for Costa Mesa, left the meeting disappointed.

"We've waited 50 years for a football stadium," he said. "If this doesn't get approved there's nothing on the horizon for us."

[For the record, 11:53 a.m., Sept. 12: An earlier version story stated the vote was 7 to 3. In fact, it was 4-3.]

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