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A Groundbreaking for Santa Ana District

Construction of Segerstrom High is expected to relieve crowding in schools.

October 01, 2003|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Nearly four years after voters approved funding, Santa Ana school officials broke ground Tuesday for a $118-million high school to relieve overcrowding that is worsening with a burgeoning middle-school population.

The construction will convert a former bean field into Segerstrom High School, with a sports complex and performance art center, plus permanent classrooms for 2,500 students in a city where almost every school campus includes portable classrooms. The school is expected to open in September 2005 across from Greenville Elementary School near MacArthur Boulevard and South Raitt Street.

The new facility will be the district's seventh high school and the first built since 1989.

"This will relieve existing overcrowding at the high schools as well as the wave of children who are coming," said Margaret Brown, senior director of facilities planning for the 61,000-student Santa Ana Unified School District.

The project is one of several that the district launched with voters' approval of a $145-million bond measure in 1999. Other projects include construction of Manuel Esqueda Elementary School and Hector Godines Fundamental High School, with groundbreaking scheduled within six months, as well as additions and renovations to eight existing elementary schools.

Art Pedroza, whose daughter will be a high school freshman next year, said he hasn't selected a high school for her yet because the existing facilities are overcrowded and the trailers are poorly ventilated.

"There was so much hope when the bond measure was passed. Here we are ... years later just breaking ground," said Pedroza. "It's a shame. You have a community with massive need. We have children learning in crowded, bad conditions."

The district sued Del Terra Real Estate Services Inc., which had been hired to oversee the construction but which the district later blamed for delays. School board member Nativo V. Lopez, who had defended Del Terra's work, was recalled this year, in part because of voters' anger over the construction delays. After the recall, the school board terminated Del Terra's contract.

The district also blamed delays on environmental regulations and the state's funding processes. The money to build the school includes $50.6 million from the state, $46.4 million from bonds, and $21 million from a settlement paid by the city of Tustin to the district following a dispute over use of the former Tustin Marine Corps Air Station.

Because the neighborhood around the new campus is already developed, the district was not able to tap developer impact fees that commonly are assessed for school construction in new suburban neighborhoods.

The district purchased the 36-acre site from the Segerstom family, a major Orange County developer, for $39.9 million. Had the district not purchased the site, it probably would have been earmarked for upscale housing, officials said. Segerstrom High will be designed in a horseshoe shape surrounding a football stadium that will be recessed into the ground to block noise.

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