Dissension halts progress on CdM athletic complex

Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials came face to face with an angry crowd last week during discussions regarding the Corona del Mar High School athletic complex.

Administrators hosted a second meeting with Corona del Mar residents Thursday night in the high school's gym to hear opinions and answer questions about the track, artificial field and stadium-style seating that would make up the new athletic complex.

The school board allocated $7.4 million to replace the current athletic field with all-weather turf, upgrade the aging track with new synthetic turf and install 600 seats on the home side of the field, bringing the seat total to 1,000.

However, with the help of school boosters, CdM's track and field Coach Bill Sumner wants to expand the plan to include a restroom facility, press box, snack bar, team room, field lights and an additional 500 seats, which would bring the total to 1,500, according to district documents.

The district board would have to give its approval before the additions are included in the master plan.

Because questions asked at the first community meeting in February were often repetitive, Supt. Fred Navarro asked residents to respond Thursday to topical questions on several sheets of large, white paper situated on easels in the gym, putting marks next to the statements with which they agreed.

The four questions asked about the type of upgrades that residents would like to see with a $7.4-million budget, concerns about parking congestion and traffic, and whether residents should be allowed to use the facilities.

When the meeting commenced, Navarro attempted to read aloud some of the concerns from the papers, but shouting residents stopped him. Instead they wanted to use the time to ask their own questions.

The small CdM neighborhoods are already plagued with heavy traffic, noise and parking problems generated by the high school's students and visitors, residents contend.

The conversation between district officials and residents grew more heated as soon as the topic of lights was brought up.

"What's going to happen to property values once they start shining lights into our windows until 10 every night?" asked Scott Peterson, a CdM resident.

Sophomore ASB President Arthur Pescan spoke on behalf of his fellow students in support of the project.

Students would benefit from not having to travel to Newport Harbor High School or Orange Coast College for games, he said.

His views were not shared by many in the crowd, who yelled comments at him until he eventually sat down. After a few minutes, he was able to speak again.

"We're asking for a field we can play on," Arthur said. "We're not asking for Harbor or Estancia's stadium. We just want people to be able to come to the games."

The district board is moving forward with a similar project at Costa Mesa High School. Members recently voted to hire an architect and begin drafting specific plans for the complex.

However, because of public outcry, trustees have stalled the CdM project, said board President Karen Yelsey.

"I know this is a frustrating experience to go through," she said. "We intentionally pulled this [project] back because we do hear you and we want to work together."

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