Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) officials are proposing an agreement with the City of Long Beach to allow Jordan High School to use neighboring Houghton Park’s baseball field for six years during the school’s multi-phase, $135.6-million reconstruction, school-district officials said.
At a Houghton Park Neighborhood Association meeting on Thursday, June 6, LBUSD officials said the project calls for the school’s practice baseball field on the south side of campus to be taken up by temporary classroom bungalows as part of Phase 1A of construction that starts January 2014.
Once classrooms occupy the school’s baseball field, however, the school plans to have students use Houghton Park’s field until all new academic buildings are completed and the temporary classrooms are removed, which could possibly be sometime in 2020, school-district officials said.
“We’re taking away the baseball field, so we’re looking at maybe using the park more specifically for baseball,” said Harold Pierre, LBUSD facilities consultant.
Pierre added, however, that a joint-use agreement with the City to use the park long-term is undetermined since the school district has yet to figure out how to fund the final phases of construction, which include revamping athletic programs and facilities.
As part of the proposed agreement with the City, the school district plans to pay for improvements to the park’s baseball field, including maintenance, since its current condition does not meet standards, Pierre said. He said surveyors were out at the park last week to conduct a needs assessment. It is unknown how much LBUSD plans to spend on park improvements.
“Because of the interim need, we recognize that we’re going to use the park more, but we are going to do some improvements on the park’s baseball field so the school can use it,” Pierre said. “Right now, it’s not enough that the school can use it properly.”
Bob Livingstone, contract management officer for the City’s parks, recreation and marine department, confirmed in a phone interview with the Signal Tribune that the school district is proposing to use the park’s baseball field, but he added that the deal has yet to go through “all of the City’s approval processes.” The City will be taking steps to “protect the City’s park users,” he said, adding, “We will have final say on whatever happens.”
Not all nearby residents are on board with the school district’s plans, however. Dennis O’Hoyt, a longtime north Long Beach resident, criticized the school district during the meeting for not finalizing plans for the athletic facilities before moving forward with the project.
“How can they bring the baseball field back if the designs show they don’t have room for a baseball field?” he asked the school-district officials, adding that neighbors have experienced a constant problem of balls flying over the school’s fence, breaking windshields, awnings and windows, and putting dents in cars.
O’Hoyt also criticized the school district for expanding its population to 3,600 students after closing a nearby 9th-grade academy, a move that he said community members involved in forming the school district’s Facility Master Plan were against.
“When we give you over $100 million to spend on a project, we expect everyone to come out winners, every stakeholder; the neighbors, the community, the students, and from what I see, that’s not happening,” he said. “It’s really shameful that we’re spending that kind of money and not getting any kind of results that are satisfactory.”
Pierre said Measure K, a bond measure passed by Long Beach voters in 2008, provides enough funding for Phases 1 and 2, which include constructing the temporary classrooms, a new cafeteria and six new buildings for small learning communities (SLCs) or academies with 142 new classrooms. Designs for those phases are to be completed in the next few months.
Plans were reconfigured to free up funding for Phase 3, which includes renovating parking, and Phase 4, which includes rebuilding the auditorium, he said. However, Pierre said funding for Phase 5 and 6, which include building a new football stadium, track-and-field course and other athletic facilities, has yet to be determined.
The difficulty, he said, is that the bond measure, which is funded through taxes on assessed value of property to pay back loans, was passed right before the housing market tanked, which substantially brought property values down.
Although it’s unknown how much revenue may be raised for the final phases of construction, he predicts the school district will eventually be able to sell bonds if the economy continues to recover. However, in the meantime, construction of the athletic facilities might be delayed, Pierre said.
“This is not unique to this district,” he said. “Every district, every city and government agency has dealt with this issue [in which they] don’t have enough capacity to go out and sell those bonds,” he said. “Eventually they’ll be able to sell bonds… the problem is it extends the timeline.”
Pierre said the main goal of the project is to replace the school’s aging infrastructure, since some buildings on the school’s 26.9-acre campus were built as far back as the 1930s. At the same time, he said the school district is committed to providing a safe learning environment for students during construction.
“Right now, we think this is doable, but it still needs some work to make sure it’s actually going to work, and unfortunately, you don’t get a chance to test it and then try it,” he said. “We’re still trying to keep the school functioning at the same time we’re replacing aging infrastructure, so it’s a tremendous undertaking… We have spent many, many hours trying to resolve this.”