School Board Agrees on Athletic Complex Financing

A 2015 rendering illustrates what the Barth Athletic Complex at Huntington Middle School will look like.
A 2015 rendering illustrates what the Barth Athletic Complex at Huntington Middle School will look like.

Barring unforeseen complications, the San Marino Unified School District will make good on its plan to break ground this summer on an expansive and long-desired multipurpose athletic complex at Huntington Middle School.
SMUSD’s Board of Education voted unanimously on the financing agreement at its Feb. 14 meeting, the third time it took up discussion on the matter. It had twice continued the vote for the purposes of making sure each member and the community had a chance to familiarize themselves with the details.
The approval was much to the relief of the audience who filled nearly every chair in the school board chambers that night.
“It’s clear the Barth Athletic Complex will benefit many groups in our community,” said parent Yvonne Chen, speaking in support of the measure before the school board voted.
The complex, so-named because of the substantial donation from the local Barth family, will replace what was originally built in 1930 as an art extension and later repurposed into a makeshift gym for the city’s only middle school. Upgrades in the past have been shelved and the general sentiment among those involved is that it was high time to finally give HMS a proper facility.
“I believe we must move forward with this project or else we will fall behind in the facilities and programs we offer our students,” said Superintendent Alex Cherniss.
The Barth family initially donated $3.5 million for the project, securing naming rights for the facility. They recently added to that, pledging up to $2 million specifically toward the debt service payments if the school board is unable to fully pay off the financing by 2021.
The Sloan family added a $500,000 donation, which gave them naming rights for the fitness center. A $250,000 donation from the Barger family will garner their name on the multipurpose room. Other donations include $50,000 from the Weiss family, $50,000 from the William Hurt Foundation and $25,000 from the Fletcher Jones Foundation on behalf of Pat Haden.
The district has another $2 million of its own money committed to the project and hopes to use $1.5 million in developer’s fees to pay down debt service on the financing. It also is in talks with the city about a donation in the form of advance payment for rental use.
In total, the project is expected to cost about $14 million.
The approved financing, which is a certificate of participation agreement, will grant the district a $6.5 million loan by using Carver Elementary School as collateral in a site lease agreement that, because it involves leasing the site right back to SMUSD, will not affect Carver’s operations whatsoever.
The debt service would involve 25 years of payments, but there are options for early payment.
School board members, while acknowledging the potential investment risks during a rocky financial climate for the state, agreed with the notion that there would never be a “perfect time” to commit to the project and agreed with Cherniss when he said the “benefits far outweigh the risks” at this point.
“I think there’s a lot of potential for additional private and city contributions before we pay any debt service,” said board member Chris Norgaard. “This is more than ‘just a gym.’ It really is for a number of sports and activities.”
Board member Nam Jack pointed out that further delaying agreement to financing could only open the door for less favorable financing conditions down the road. Her colleague, Lisa Link, agreed.
“I still have concerns that relate to the district’s future financial health,” Link said. “However, as [Jack] just said, it’s hard to predict the future and if we were to wait for the perfect day to approve taking on the debt, that day would never come.”
The board easily voted to approve the COP afterward, and it was clear the audience was holding back a burst of applause. Board President C. Joseph Chang made a point to commend the private donors who already have pledged support for the project.
“I am very touched by these donors,” he said. “I’d like to salute their generosity and the attention they pay the school district even though their children are no longer here.”

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