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Orange Coast College sells its Canadian island gift

Rabbit Island's upkeep was too costly, trustees say. Some on the faculty hoped for a research site.

July 24, 2007|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

A Costa Mesa community college that was given a craggy British Columbia island has agreed to sell the property to an unnamed Vancouver man for $2.4 million, school officials said Monday.

Orange Coast College had hoped to transform the ecologically delicate Rabbit Island into a field research station, but the school's foundation deemed the 36-acre swath too costly to maintain.

"We're very pleased," said Jim Carnett, a college spokesman. "It really hasn't been on the market that long."

Yachtsman Henry Wheeler donated the island to the college in 2003 after using it for nearly a decade as a family vacation retreat. But in March, the foundation voted nearly unanimously to sell the island, which is in the Strait of Georgia off Vancouver, over protests from students and faculty.

Carnett said the buyer, who put down an irrevocable deposit of $50,000, expects to use the island as a family retreat. The sale is expected to be finalized by mid-September, he said.

Two other offers were considered, one from the Land Conservancy of British Columbia, which wanted to use the island as a nature reserve.

Orange Coast, which has an enrollment of about 24,000, held classes on the island each summer for four years with about 25 students, who combed it for plant samples and snapped photos of spectacular tides.

While caretakers oversaw the property during stormy winter months, the distance between the island and the college -- almost 1,300 miles -- proved too much to overcome. Repair costs topped $200,000 and the island's budget climbed to nearly $200,000 annually, including instructors' salaries and maintenance costs.

Foundation trustees began mulling the fate of the island last fall. Consultants concluded that the island was too far away and its maintenance too expensive to make a research station feasible.

The decision to sell came after a lengthy campus debate in which some faculty members argued that Rabbit Island afforded a unique research opportunity. Students circulated petitions that said selling the island "for a quick cash boon would be a hasty and unwise use of a generous gift."

After taxes and real estate transaction fees, Carnett said the college was expected to clear more than $1 million. Most of the profit will go to the college's School of Sailing and Seamanship, and some might be diverted to the school's marine biology program.

david.mckibben@latimes.com

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