By Tasmin McGill, Guest Contributor
Laguna Beach City Councilmembers voted 4-1 to go ahead with an interim plan for the former St. Catherine of Siena school during their Jan. 24 council meeting. The interim plan is expected to start in spring and includes the use of the gymnasium for community recreation and non-profit use. The city also approved hiring a full-time recreation supervisor and maintenance worker.
Long-term uses for the property are still to be determined after February open houses and more public input.
Assistant city manager Gavin Curran presented recommendations for the four buildings and surrounding land at 30516 Coast Highway during the Tuesday meeting and included using the school’s gymnasium as a recreational center to host various programs, including pickleball and youth gymnastic classes.
“Coming up very quickly here would be adult drop-in basketball in the basic gym area, indoor pickleball with temporary lines and nets, and youth recreation classes, including music, art, sports, STEAM and gymnastics,” Curran said. “Then, of course, there’s potential for cultural arts programming for the stage area.”
The main building, or Building B, on the lot, will be transformed into a space for both city operations and community use. It is proposed that the first floor will be used for city administrative staff, including fire administration, and will include an employee lounge. The second floor will house a library, classrooms, and a kindergarten room.
The report proposes using the chapel as a wedding venue in the future and the lower building on the lot as rental spaces for City organizations and non-profits. The five-page plan also includes the addition of a mobile skate park that could be introduced as soon as spring 2023.
City Staff also recommended hiring a full-time recreation supervisor and maintenance worker to accommodate the changes and reopening of the building.
The proposed plan received encouraging responses from the Laguna Canyon chapter of the Boys & Girls Club and Just Gather, a non-profit organization.
“We have the need for gym space. We would love to be able to run a girls league at the same time as the boy’s league, but we don’t have the gym time for that,” 20-year Boys and Girls Club employee Hans LaRoche said. “I can see a lot of collaboration opportunities where we could partner up, like the mobile skate ramps. We talked about doing the same thing at the club, so a lot of things that we want to do also for the community. Being able to run dodgeball tournaments, activities in the gym, etc. Keep us in mind. We’d love to partner with the City.”
The proposed plan for St. Catherine received a positive response promising for community members looking for space that this plan will provide. Still, concerns about the proposed increase in parking and the lack of community input stand in the way of widespread support.
“I noticed the proposal to convert an existing field to some excess parking. There are some groups in town, flag football might be one, that might be lacking field space,” Laguna resident Elizabeth Hanauer said. “I think it’s great, this interim use, and I just want to remind everyone that this is a permanent need, so hopefully, when you plan for the long-term use of the site, keep in mind families and youth needs. I think this site is a great opportunity to develop some great things for the City.”
When it came to a vote, the plan passed 4-1, with Councilmember George Weiss voting no.
“I was here when we made the decision to purchase the property, and I did not have any idea that there was going to be an interim use proposed by the City. I thought Council directed staff to the city manager’s offices to connect with the city residents to find out what they wanted,” Councilmember Weiss said. “We need to have the people look at this place and organizations as well. I like the idea, but I think it’s premature…I find this disrespectful to the community. You’re not even proposing these ideas until spring of 2023. Adult drop-in basketball at 9 a.m.? I just don’t see that happening. All of this has to be organized and advertised, and you have to ask the community what they want. I think we should wait until March to do this.”
The City purchased the St. Catherine’s property in 2022 for $23 million with the support of Laguna’s residents and community members.