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Yorba Linda High to End a Long Absence

March 23, 2006|Juliet Chung | Times Staff Writer

On the town's website, Yorba Linda is portrayed as the "Land of Gracious Living," blessed with rolling hills, a stately municipal golf course and the Richard Nixon presidential library.

What it's missing -- and has been for decades -- is a high school.

Phyllis Coleman knows that as well as anyone. When she moved into town with her husband in 1964 -- four years before Nixon was elected president -- a real estate agent convinced her that a local high school would be built in time for their children to attend it.

Now she's hoping the campus will be built in time for her grandchildren.

The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District agreed last week to buy a 50-acre swath of land that, with a previous 15-acre purchase, will be home to Yorba Linda's first public high school.

An architect is putting the finishing touches on his designs for the $135-million Mediterranean-style campus, whose hilltop perch on clear days offers views of Catalina and the Pacific.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 28, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Esperanza High School: A story in some editions of Thursday's California section on plans to build a high school in Yorba Linda incorrectly stated that Esperanza High School is in Placentia. It is in Anaheim.

Lawyers are working out the final sales details for the site, and district officials are revising an environmental impact report that must be approved before construction of Yorba Linda High School can begin.

If all goes according to plan, the district will break ground this fall and open the school's doors in the fall of 2008.

"It's been a long time coming," said Coleman, 63. "I'm going to be there when that door opens."

Yorba Linda Mayor Michael Duvall said a city high school would add to the sense of community.

"It's a sense of pride, it's a sense of putting us on the map," Duvall said. The mayor said it never seemed quite fair that neighboring Placentia had two comprehensive high schools, while his hometown had none.

Yorba Linda is not the only Orange County city that lacks its own high school. Laguna Niguel has been yearning for years for its own campus, and San Juan Capistrano, which closed its high school four decades ago, is still two years away from having one.

Yorba Linda's effort to create a high school was stalled by a lack of land and money.

There were other complications as well.

The local school district had to end a long-standing agreement that Yorba Linda teens attend Fullerton high schools. When that was settled, the school district merged with Placentia's in 1989.

Applauded by parents tired of lengthy commutes, the move meant that thousands of Yorba Linda teens would attend high schools in nearby Placentia and Anaheim.

Then, in 1999, the Placentia-Yorba Linda district sued Yorba Linda over redevelopment dollars it believed the city owed it. The legal fight ended nearly five years later with a settlement that created some funding for the school district and a new spirit of cooperation between city and school officials.

Voters' passage of a bond measure and a new state program matching local money for new-school construction helped resolve funding concerns.

For its money, the school district got 65 acres of gently sloping land in the middle of the city. Part of the land hosts old community college buildings that are slated for renovation.

"There were so many stars that had to be in alignment for this to come about," said Karin Freeman, president of the district's board of education and a longtime advocate for a Yorba Linda high school.

Longtime residents are counting the days.

"It's the ability to do 'rah rah' for Yorba Linda High School and Yorba Linda teenagers," said Paul Armstrong, 79, a member of the city's school board in the 1960s who recalls a yearning for a local high school even then.

Jerome Rabow, a UCLA professor emeritus of sociology, said the significance of a local high school went beyond its brick-and-mortar presence.

"The obvious traditions of 'We have a great football team' and 'We went to the state finals' -- those things make you feel like you're part of something bigger," he said.

Yorba Linda High will abut a 6-acre city park and feature a bell tower, 4,000-seat stadium, swimming pool and at least 20 computer centers.

It will have 1,600 to 2,000 students, said district Supt. Dennis M. Smith, though it will begin with a smaller population of just ninth- and 10th-graders.

Smith said the district had not determined who would attend the new school. But because there are nearly 4,000 high school-age students in Yorba Linda -- 46% of the district's population of high school students -- some will continue attending high schools outside the city.

Yorba Linda teens will not be the only ones affected; the district will redraw its high school boundaries and shift students accordingly. The district expects to begin discussing new boundaries in the fall.

Esperanza High School Principal Dave Flynn said the new high school would alleviate overcrowding at his Placentia school, where Yorba Linda teens make up 75% of the student body.

Coleman, who had placed her faith in the real estate agent, welcomes the progress.

"It's been 42 years," she said, "but now I think we're going to be complete."

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