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Shutdown school would need cash to be put to use
By Gail Wesson
The Press-Enterprise

Friday, January 18, 1991

Mountain residents want to put the closed Elliott-Pope Preparatory School to community use, but Riverside County Supervisor Kay Ceniceros says they must be willing to commit dollars before the county could help.

The 60-year-old secondary school's board of trustees decided to close the Saunders Meadow Road campus last month when financial difficulties became insurmountable.

Since the closure, there has been rampant speculation about what will become of the 85-acre campus and its classrooms, housing, multipurpose hall and gymnasium.

Ceniceros said Wednesday she wants to see at least 1,000 signatures of people willing to pay an assessment of $64 or more toward such a purchase before she will offer county help. She envisions a partnership of agencies and non-profit groups involved in a purchase.

Because the school is owned by a nonprofit corporation, the assets will be sold to satisfy creditors under supervision of the state Attorney General's Office.

Acquiring the facility for community use was the main topic at the monthly Hill Municipal Advisory Council meeting Wednesday. School closure meant a loss of fields and gymnasium space used for community youth and adult recreational leagues.

Gene Jones, Elliott-Pope's business manager, said he expects the school's board to get two or three offers in the next week or two. One of the unidentified parties wants to reopen the campus as a private school. He said the sale must bring in at least $4.4 million, excluding any real estate commission, to repay creditors and loans.

Whether the facilities would be available for recreation under new ownership "would be up to the discretion of the buyers," he said. None of the parties was identified. Jones suggested the community could come up with an offer to present to trustees.

A committee will meet under the auspices of County Service Area 36, which provides recreation activities in Idyllwild, to explore the acquisition.

Ceniceros, whose 3rd district includes the mountain area, said at the community meeting, "The hard part is asking how do we get these facilities. They do not drop out of the sky."

The community has not been willing to pay for other amenities, such as parking and public restrooms, after the county invested dollars to explore projects.

Ceniceros' preferred mechanism for a purchase and operation of the facility would be a community facilities district, which requires a two-thirds vote approval. A proposal that combines use of the facility for a kindergarten-through-12th-grade public school, room for a bigger county library and recreational uses might appeal to voters, she said.

"I think this is such a valuable asset to this community," said Jack McLaughlin, Hemet Unified School District superintendent. But he said community support to combine elementary and secondary education at one school is essential, and "the bottom line is, how are we going to pay for it?"

Copyright: The Press-Enterprise

Copyright 1998 David Gotfredson