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Ventura County

Plan to Give Old School New Life Awaits OK

Oak View: Shuttered campus would be converted into a library and community center, if residents agree to pay.

April 26, 2002|SUZIE ST. JOHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The campaign to turn a former elementary school into a library and community center may soon be won by Oak View residents--if they are willing to pony up the needed funds.

Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett said he expects the board to approve the county's purchase of the closed Oak View School from the Ventura Unified School District for the asking price of $1.2 million. That action should come May 7 or 14.

But for the sale to go through, Oak View residents must vote to raise their property taxes by up to $49 a year. That money would support not only the purchase of the 4.63-acre property but also pay to turn the school into a family resource center featuring community services, parks and a larger site for the Oak View Library.

For assessment purposes, the community has been divided into three zones. Residents of Zone A, in the immediate area of the school site, would be assessed the full $49 per year. Residents of Zones B and C would be assessed $24.50 per year. The added amounts would appear on residents' property tax bills.

Earlier this week, county supervisors received a survey showing that more than 60% of Oak View residents would support the annual assessment if it meant the Mahoney Avenue school would be converted to public use. The campus was closed in the summer of 2000 with students relocating to Sunset Elementary School.

For only the third time in county history, the vote will be conducted by mail. Bennett said he expects ballots to go out at the end of May with voters having 45 days to return them.

Bruce Bradley, assistant registrar of voters for Ventura County, said the assessment only needs a simple majority to pass.

Time is of the essence for the vote.

The county has already submitted a purchase offer to Ventura Unified, with an Aug. 10 deadline for closing escrow. The county wants to have the ballots counted in time to get the added tax assessment on the bills that are mailed out in July.

"From all indications, it looks like it's going to work," said Christy Madden, community development manager with the County Executive Office.

In addition to the anticipated revenue from the passage of the special assessment, she said, funding for the project would come from $496,000 in state bond money earmarked for community centers and parks.

The county is negotiating with local nonprofit agency Interface to manage the center.

Bennett said the idea behind the purchase is to lease the property to nonprofit groups that serve community needs.

Resident Leigh Melander said a number of groups have expressed an interest in the site, including Help of Ojai and the Ojai Birth Resource & Family Center.

As steering committee chairwoman for Community Works!, a group leading the drive to preserve the school site, Melander said the recent commitment of $100,000 by the Ojai Valley Library Friends and Foundation has jump-started the grass-roots campaign to turn the site into what she hopes will be a multiservice center for the Oak View community.

Bob Kemper of the foundation said the group committed the funds for the estimated $550,000 cost of renovating the proposed 3,690-square-foot library site. Currently the library is housed in a 2,000-square-foot building on Ventura Avenue.

"This will basically double the size of the library, and we can expand hours," Kemper said. The library is open 24 hours a week now.

Another benefit of the move, Bennett and others said, is that a site off Ventura Avenue would be much safer for children who study at the library after school.

The foundation's money was given in the form of a challenge grant, meaning it is contingent upon the passage of the special assessment and that the community raise additional funds toward the cost of the renovation.

"We didn't just want to throw $100,000 out there, but it is the library foundation's perspective that this is money we want to spend on the project," Kemper said.

While tax measures often are difficult to pass, Don Facciano, president of the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn., said he wouldn't write off this one.

"The cause is good, and the place is just sitting empty," he said. "The residents seem to want to support it."

Community meetings have yielded positive responses, Melander said.

"I think we are in pretty good shape," she said about the upcoming vote. "If the community really wants it, they will find it in their hearts and wallets to support this."

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