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City Will Aid New-Schools Effort

To help the district deal with a costly decision to scrap an unpopular site, Santa Ana plans to take actions that will cut construction costs.

March 27, 2003|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

The decision not to build a controversial elementary campus will delay plans to ease overcrowding in the Santa Ana Unified School District and add millions of dollars to construction costs, but officials said City Hall may help soften the blow.

Supt. Al Mijares touted a package of pledges from the city just before the board of education voted 4 to 0 late Tuesday to kill the $25.5-million Lorin Griset Elementary School.

The city, which has had a tense relationship with the school district, pledged to help Santa Ana Unified save more than $3 million on its overall construction plan by easing landscaping requirements on other projects, paying for sewer upgrades at new schools and by vacating land it leases from the district.

"The city feels that the school district is making a sacrifice" with its decision not to build the Lorin Griset school, Santa Ana City Manager David N. Ream said Wednesday. "We want to help them make up some lost ground and build new schools."

Four years after voters passed a $145-million school construction bond measure, the 61,000-student district has yet to build any new campuses. Lorin Griset Elementary -- planned for a vacant 9-acre lot in the northeast part of the city amid some of Santa Ana's most affluent neighborhoods -- would have been the first to open, in September 2004.

District planners revised cost estimates Tuesday, saying it would take about $30.5 million and at least three years to build a similar 850-student campus elsewhere in the city. Last week, the estimate was $35 million.

The proposed campus became a flashpoint in the recall of former trustee Nativo V. Lopez. The longtime immigrant rights activist and City Hall critic was ousted in February and replaced by Rob Richardson, a former city councilman.

Opponents of the Lorin Griset school said a campus was needed more elsewhere in the city. They joined organizers of Lopez's recall who accused the him of race-baiting and illegally promoting bilingual education in the heavily Latino district. Lopez countered that he was defending the rights of poor immigrant children to be educated, even if it disturbed some well-to-do residents.

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel A. Pulido and other city leaders vowed to help stop the Lorin Griset project, exacerbating an already-contentious relationship with Lopez and others on the school board, including trustee John Palacio, who survived stiff competition from City Hall-backed candidates in the November election.

"This is a new day, a new relationship" with the city, Richardson said before the board voted shortly before midnight to kill the Lorin Griset project. Palacio was absent.

The district already has spent nearly $10 million to buy the land and plan the campus, and an additional $1 million will go to compensate contractors already hired to build the school. District officials hope to recoup most of that from the sale of the land and state reimbursements.

But some supporters of the Lorin Griset school say they are not sure the district can easily switch sites.

"It's a gamble," said Joe Gerda, member of a citizens committee charged with overseeing Measure C projects.

Gerda also wasn't convinced by the promise of help from the city.

"There has been no audit of their pledges by the oversight committee," he said. Moreover, "so much of what the city is offering should have been offered anyway in a city that has 'Education First' as its motto."

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