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MESA/IRVINE: NEWPORT BEACH

Nature Center Hoping to Grow

October 23, 1998|STEVE CARNEY

The hidden jewel of Newport Beach may soon be thrust into view.

The Environmental Nature Center could reach an agreement Tuesday with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District to buy an adjoining lot that would give the center more room for parking, offices and classrooms. Mainly, though, it would help people find the place.

With just a tiny sign revealing its location, 1601 16th St., the 2 1/2-acre center is nestled so far behind Newport Harbor High School that only the most determined visitors can find it.

Angela Pinkerton, administrative assistant at the center, said the prospect of having more space is "so exciting. Without that property, we are completely hidden. It will give us an actual street-side view."

Pinkerton herself wasn't even aware of the center when she attended Newport Harbor High--even though 10,000 schoolchildren from Orange County and beyond visit every year to explore small versions of 14 California ecosystems, from a redwood forest to a saltwater marsh.

"We think it offers a unique learning experience," said Jim Ferryman, board chairman for Newport-Mesa Unified.

"The value it presents our students and others around the county is substantial. We've got to make sure it perseveres."

Newport-Mesa trustees will vote Tuesday on a lease-purchase agreement with the center, Ferryman said. Though details remain to be worked out, the district has agreed to sell the land to the center for about $600,000 and will finance the purchase after a down payment, he said.

"We're very close," Ferryman said. "I don't know why we've been dragging our feet."

So far the center has raised about $400,000 toward the $1-million goal of its "Save Acres for Nature" campaign to buy and renovate the lot.

The staff of the 26-year-old Nature Center plans to use the existing buildings for offices and classrooms, eventually build its own interpretive center and move out of the cramped mobile home that now serves as its headquarters.

Executive Director Bo Glover said the center raised about $20,000 and hosted nearly 2,500 people Sunday at its annual Fall Faire fund-raiser.

"Community support was tremendous," Glover said. "That's probably more important than the money we raised, introducing new people to the center."

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