A sporting mission

The new sports complex, Bill Sumner insisted, will not be a 5,000-seat behemoth of a stadium.

Its lights will not shine into neighbors' homes through the night, the longtime Corona del Mar High School track coach said. And its footprint, Sumner added, will not be any larger than the aging, patched-up track and field that are already there.

Sumner — who is spearheading the high school's efforts to revamp its outdoor sports facilities — wanted to make that much clear Thursday, as he showed off a series of illustrations depicting a state-of-the-art field complex that would seat about 1,400 and include lights, new bathrooms, two team rooms and two snack bars.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District 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, bringing the total to no more than 1,000.

But Sumner, along with CdM boosters, hope to expand that plan on their own dime, though the school board would have to approve the additions.

"It's my dream," said Sumner, a 30-year employee of the school.

That vision, however, has come under fire from residents in neighborhoods surrounding the compact campus off Eastbluff Drive, who have said that even the changes proposed by the district would worsen an already hectic traffic pattern.

Parking, too, residents have said, would become even more of a nightmare.

Sumner said the illustrations, which cost about $9,000, serve a dual purpose: first, to give prospective donors a picture of what they could help build. The school needs to raise about $5 million more in order to complete the additional changes, Sumner estimated.

Second, the renderings, which were commissioned independently of the school district, could act as a base for discussions with community members — a point of reference that could assuage concerns about the proposed facility's effect on the area.

Another community meeting, where residents can air their thoughts on the topic, is set for 5 p.m. March 20 in the school's theater.

"We're going from a Prius to a Suburban," Sumner said. "The rumors are that we're going from a Prius to a school bus."

He said about 78% of the school's students participate in athletics — a higher percentage than most.

District board member Katrina Foley, who is heavily involved in youth sports, commended Sumner for "having the passion and inspiration to get a project off the ground."

While Foley said the district and the school will take residents' concerns into account, she added that improvements are much needed.

"That's a very athletically competitive school and they deserve to have athletically competitive athletic facilities," she said, "but we absolutely need to address parking and traffic."

The project is in its early stages, and the district has not yet hired an architect to complete an official rendering of the changes the board ultimately approves, according to district spokeswoman Laura Boss.

Board President Karen Yelsey, whose trustee area includes CdM, said the school's "traffic issue" predates the athletic complex debate. She was hopeful that "once the community sees what we're doing, they'll be supportive and pleased to have that in the area."

"It only enhances the community when you have good facilities at the school," she said.

Newport Beach Councilman Tony Petros, who has followed the issue closely, said the city will reserve judgment until the district's full process is complete.

"We'll see whatever comes out of that," he said. "And then we will have a very healthy discussion on whatever it is that enters the public realm."

Thursday afternoon, Sumner chatted as he leaned against the chain link fence surrounding the existing field, pausing occasionally to address students trickling onto the track for practice. He encouraged some of them to check out the drawings, now tucked into the back seat of his white Suburban.

"Did you see it? How sick is that?" one boy dressed in Sea Kings gym clothes called out to a friend, using slang to say it's pretty terrific.

Daily Pilot staff writer Jeremiah Dobruck contributed to this report.

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