New religious school could answer city's prayers

A group interested in founding a private Christian high school in Newport Beach found a possible location at the site of their alma mater, a school that has since been converted into the West Newport Community Center.

Newport Beach is hoping to get a school to open at the location, which would be shared with the city as it works to finalize a location for a new community center, officials confirmed Wednesday.

The property seemed ideal to David Bahnsen, vice president of Pacifica Christian High School of Orange County's board of trustees, which is interested in the former site of Newport Christian High School.

Bahnsen spent his teenage years roaming the halls of the now-closed high school; his father taught at the school.

The city purchased Newport Christian's land at 883 W. 15th St. when the school closed in the 1980s. Now Pacifica Christian has plans to turn the site back into a faith-based high school.

"Newport is the most gaping hole that one could possibly imagine in terms of faith-based high schools," Bahnsen said. "For 25 years now, since Newport Christian left, there has not been a faith-oriented school in the area whatsoever."

Pacifica Christian's sister school in Santa Monica, which opened 10 years ago, will be the model for the Newport Beach location, Bahnsen said.

"College admissions speak for themselves," he said of the Santa Monica school. "They've done a remarkable job preparing students to attend top colleges."

Pacifica Christian is expected to open in September 2015, with tours starting as early as this fall. Bahnsen said tuition will be priced competitively compared with other private schools in the area, between $15,000 and $18,000 per year.

Tuition at Sage Hill School, a private school without a religious affiliation in Newport Beach, is $31,770 a year.

Pending continued negotiations, Pacifica Christian would share the building with the city.

"We're not prepared yet to dispose of it because that's not in the best interest of the people of Newport Beach," said Councilman Tony Petros, who represents the area. "We don't want West Newport to be without this."

Though negotiations have not been completed, the city will probably still be able to use the gym and dance room, said City Manager Dave Kiff.

There are about six classrooms on the property, he said, plus an additional space that might be converted into more classrooms or an office area.

The deal involves either a lease or sale of the space. The city never envisioned retaining the current location for a new community center, Kiff said.

Among the places being considered for a new center are two corporate yards, one at the end of 16th street and another at Newport Boulevard and Industrial Way, Kiff said.

Both are much larger than the current center, which is less than an acre, and might allow for dual use as a community center and police headquarters or corporate yard.

"I personally see this as a way to accommodate a valuable cultural institution, get a stream of payments while we're inviting them in, then plan for the ultimate home of a beautiful West Newport Community Center," Petros said. "That's the endgame."

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