The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange is asking for $23 million to sell the 6.5-acre St. Catherine of Siena school property to Laguna Beach, according to a staff report.
St. Catherine, a transitional kindergarten to eighth-grade Catholic elementary school, closed its doors in June 2020 after county health orders shifted classes for all schools online.
“The school-age population in the local area has been in decline for many years, and it was a driving factor in the decision to close the school and put the property up for sale,” diocese spokesperson Jarryd Gonzales said in a statement Friday.
The school opened in 1957 and was remodeled in 2008. The Diocese of Orange considered all options for disposing of the school but landed on moving forward with Laguna Beach, foreseeing community-wide uses for the land, Gonzales said.
“The Property provides the City with a unique opportunity to increase services for the community. More notably, given the excellent condition of the buildings on the Property, many services could be brought online almost immediately, if the City Council decides to move forward with the acquisition,” senior management analyst Jeremy Frimond wrote in a staff report.
The report identifies possible uses as a public pool, new civic center, cultural arts center, and/or parking structure. The property falls within the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone by the California Dept. of Forestry and Protection.
The Laguna Beach Unified School District submitted a letter to the City declaring its interest in partnering with the City to help shoulder the cost.
“Specifically, the District would like to partner with City to acquire the property for use in the District’s educational programs and services,” Supt. Jason Viloria wrote.
Among the identified educational uses is a possible site for an expanded transitional kindergarten program. South Laguna has been without a school since the district closed Aliso School in 1981.
An Irvine-based performing arts nonprofit had publicly mulled establishing a conservatory at the shuttered South Laguna school to supplement Laguna Beach students’ need for additional performing arts classes. This proposal was never launched.
A preliminary review of the municipal budget and investment portfolio showed city staffers that Laguna Beach has the financial resources to fund the transaction. Among the options is borrowing surplus from the City’s vehicle replacement and insurance funds. The funds would be repaid with interest over a 10- to 15-year term. City staff also looked at issuing revenue bonds or applying for state-based or commercial loans.
This would be the latest in a string of real estate deals sought by city officials over the last year. In May, Laguna Beach and Laguna Presbyterian Church inked a tentative deal that could add 92 spaces of public parking through a ground lease agreement for a $10 million parking structure.
Last year, the City Council voted to acquire two South Laguna properties for future public use. The $2.7 million deal was for the vacant Ti Amo restaurant and parking lot at 31727 and 31735 S. Coast Hwy. Fire officials have studied building a new fire station on the site but the plan faces opposition from the South Laguna Civic Association.
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