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Estancia has years to wait for new theater

Remaining bond measure money is out of reach until the economy improves, Newport-Mesa district officials say.

July 15, 2013|By Jeremiah Dobruck

In 2005, Newport-Mesa's four high schools were promised new performing arts centers.

Since then, Newport Harbor High School's revamped facility opened in 2009. Corona del Mar and Costa Mesa high school's theaters are starting to take shape.

But construction on Estancia High School's promised facility won't even start for five to seven years, according to Newport-Mesa Unified School District's chief budget official, Deputy Supt. Paul Reed.

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"I don't want to seem ungrateful, but at the same time, I don't understand what happened," Estancia drama teacher Pauline Maranian said about the stalled project.

The theater is one of about a dozen projects specifically promised under Measure F, a $282 million bond initiative approved by voters in 2005.

Measure F has funded completed projects like Jim Scott Stadium and those in progress, including the renovations of Mesa and CdM's middle school campuses.

The estimated $27 million theater at Estancia is one of only two explicitly named projects still waiting to be built with the bond money.

A revamp of Davidson Field and its stadium at Newport Harbor could also be stalled until 2020 if it has to wait on Measure F funds, Reed said, but it's possible a one-time infusion of cash from the dissolution of local redevelopment agencies could speed up the process.

School board members recently ranked the Davidson Field project as a top priority for available funding.

The Measure F delay is attributed to the district's inability to sell the remaining $100 million worth of bonds available without triggering a boost to property tax rates, just what the ballot initiative promised wouldn't happen, Reed said.

"We've honored that," school board trustee Martha Fluor said. "And I'm sure if there hadn't been a recession, we'd be well on our way to meeting the desires and wishes of the community in terms of Measure F, but unfortunately that didn't happen."

For the school district to be able to service its bond debt without raising tax rates, it had to count on the tax base growing, which wasn't a problem in 2005, Reed said.

When the housing market was strong in 2006, Newport-Mesa was able to sell $70 million of bonds without causing a rate increase. That money resulted in the TeWinkle Middle School gym in 2008 and other new buildings.

But when the recession began in 2007, property tax income flattened, Reed said, forcing the district to wait or find a new way to issue bonds if it wanted to keep up construction.

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