After losing a legal battle with the city of Los Alamitos over the site of a proposed new campus, the Orange County High School of the Arts might be headed to Santa Ana.
Santa Ana is "the most appealing" choice for a new location because of a possible land donation by developers C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, said the school's executive director, Ralph Opacic. The school has had overtures from several other cities, he said.
The Segerstrom family foundation "has expressed interest in providing land to us," Opacic said. "At this point, that's as far as the conversations have gone."
But several Santa Ana officials already are expressing enthusiasm about housing the school, including Mayor Miguel A. Pulido Jr., schools Supt. Al Mijares and school board President John Palacio.
"My main goal is to bring them to Santa Ana. . . . We're going to be very accommodating and proactive," Pulido said.
The mayor added that he hopes the school will consider other locations in Santa Ana as well, including an area downtown that the city has developed as an artists' village.
Opacic said the school also has received overtures from Anaheim, the Newport-Mesa school district, and the Orange County Fair board about the possibility of bringing the school to their respective domains.
The Segerstrom offer includes a few acres of land on a 70-acre parcel known as Armstrong Ranch, located in south Santa Ana at the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Bear Street. Segerstrom has an application before the city to use the site for a residential development, said Paul Freeman, secretary of the Segerstrom family foundation.
"Our discussions [about the school] have been preliminary. There have been no decisions," Freeman said. "But are we talking? Yes. And we are supportive of their program."
The Orange County High School of the Arts might not be the only school destined for that parcel of land, Freeman said. Santa Ana Unified School District trustees voted last month to enter negotiations with Segerstrom for as many as 35 acres that would be used to build another high school there as well.
The arts school is now part of the Los Alamitos School District, but the arts portion of the school operates on $600,000 a year that is raised by its own nonprofit foundation. Students, who come from all over Orange County, spend five hours a day on academics and an additional three hours in arts training programs.
The school is housed at Los Alamitos High School, where students from both schools share an academic program. But as general enrollment at the high school surged, the arts school found itself increasingly squeezed for space. The school was able to accept only 90 new students for enrollment this year, despite receiving 700 applications, Opacic said.
Plans to build a new school on land owned by the Los Alamitos School District on Bloomfield Avenue were opposed by the city because of concerns over traffic congestion and the project's environmental impact. In a rare move, the city sued the school district to stop the plans from going forward. The city prevailed in July after a judge ruled that the district failed to follow state environmental review laws before approving construction.
The arts high school had spent $1.4 million on plans for the new facility, which was to have classrooms, a theater and studio space for 800 students. Opacic said he hopes the plans will be applicable at a new site.
The Los Alamitos Board of Education regretfully announced Monday that it had discontinued its efforts to build a new campus at the Bloomfield site. The school will stay at Los Alamitos High School at least through the coming school year.
Los Alamitos school board member Del Clark described the likely relocation of the high school as a blow to the city.
"It shows a lack of vision on [the city's] behalf. They won, but the community lost," Clark said. "In the long run, though, it may be the school that wins out. I wish them grand luck."
Los Alamitos City Councilwoman Alice B. Jempsa said there was no winner in the lawsuit between the city and the school district, which she said had divided the community. The arts school "has been a great asset in the community, but it has been limited," Jempsa said. "We were limited by space."
For his part, Opacic seems ready to leave the rancor of the last several years behind. The school has been searching for a permanent home since 1996. "Now we can sit down and start having serious conversations about building the school elsewhere," he said.
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The Orange County High School of the Arts, wooed by several cities, would prefer to relocate to a portion of a parcel in Santa Ana owned by developer Henry Segerstrom.