CdM High sports complex brings up traffic worries

In front of a sometimes hostile crowd, Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials laid out two possible plans to revamp outdoor sports facilities at Corona del Mar High School.

School administrators convened the Wednesday night meeting at the Newport Beach Public Library to hear residents' opinions about a planned new track, artificial field and stadium seating, but skeptical questions about traffic and parking impacts dominated the night's discussion.

The school board has already allocated $7.4 million to replace the current athletics field with all-weather turf, upgrade the aging track with new synthetic turf and install up to 600 additional seats on the home side of the field bringing to total up to no more than 1,000. The visitors' side would remain without seating.

CdM boosters want to expand that plan. They're trying to raise money to add team rooms with bathrooms, a snack shack and lights. The school board would have to approve the additions.

"I don't want a big stadium going in my backyard either. This is not a big stadium; this is a sports complex" said CdM track and field coach Bill Sumner, drawing a chorus of jeers from the crowd. Sumner has been spear-heading fundraising efforts for the larger plan.

The project is in early stages, and residents can voice their concerns when the school district starts studying what environmental impact the project would have, administrators said.

Administrators said the entire construction process can take years and that they haven't hired an architect yet.

Most of the inquiries submitted Wednesday complained about congestion and parking around the campus and expressed worry that 1,000 spectator seats for sports events would just create more gridlock.

"You're doing something to draw even more people to a very limited footprint," said Paul Doremus, president of the homeowners association in the Villa Granada neighborhood near CdM. "That's the problem."

If school events are not scheduled to overlap, the new seating wouldn't cause more crowding, administrators said. The school's gym, with 2,000 seats, already handles larger crowds than the new field would, administrators said.

But traffic and parking conditions are already untenable, according to residents who complained of nightmarish congestion that traps them in their neighborhood.

"How you could defend the status quo is incredible to me," Doremus told administrators.

More than an hour into the meeting, Assistant Supt. Chuck Hinman reminded the standing-room only crowd of more than 100 people that they would need to stick to the topic of the sports improvements instead of lobbing more concerns about historical issues.

"We're not saying we're here to improve your parking around your school site," Hinman said. "We're here saying we're trying to improve the campus of Corona del Mar High School."

In a different room full of students and their parents, the project would be wildly popular, Hinman said. The vast majority of students at CdM participate in athletics, he said.

If renovations go through, the new track would be less accessible to residents who can essentially use the current track at will.

Because the new field turf and synthetic track would cost millions, the district is much more protective of them, said Tim Marsh, who oversees school facilities.

Usually that requires a city program or other group to pay fees for a district employee to monitor use.

"You would not just be able to walk up and use it," Marsh said.

Newport Beach Councilman Tony Petros watched from the back of the meeting until the end, when he took an opportunity to speak.

He told administrators he hopes any further decisions are based on facts and the input provided by residents.

"I am encouraged by the transparency and willingness to work together," he said.

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