Students walking at Centennial Education Center in Santa Ana. / Oliver Rivero / el Don
The Rancho Santiago Community College District Board of Trustees unanimously approved a license extension agreement with the City of Santa Ana March 25 that will keep the district’s Centennial Education Center in its current location for two more years.
The agreement allows staff at Santa Ana College’s School of Continuing Education to start scheduling classes for the fall 2019 semester. It also gives the city and district more time to review options for the campus, which has been located on 2.6 acres of city property inside Centennial Park for nearly four decades, despite not being aligned with the park’s land-use requirements.
Deed restrictions outlined by the federal government require that the 470-acre Centennial Park be used exclusively for recreation. To operate an educational center permanently on the site, the city needs to apply for a land conversion with the National Parks Service and transfer Centennial Park’s deed restrictions to another property of equal size within the city. Only then can Santa Ana and the district potentially enter negotiations for a long-term lease at the current CEC site.
“We serve the community. A lot of the students who go to Centennial go there to learn English and learn how to use computers and we have been there for so many years,” CEC Employee Services Representative Claudia Diaz said.
The city approved two 5-year extensions since the original 30-year agreement ended in 2009. In 2011 and again in 2015, the district agreed to submit the necessary paperwork and reimburse the city up to $300,000 for any costs associated with a potential land conversion. A site on McFadden was rejected in 2011 because it was smaller than CEC’s footprint.
The latest extension was meant to ensure the license agreement didn’t lapse while the city reviews other potential sites to swap for CEC’s. But not everyone on city council is in favor of re-drafting public space or permanently reducing the park’s size.
“Centennial Park is a recreational park for use of the entire community. I am not saying that the continuing education center doesn’t serve our community but I don’t think it serves all of our community but a park would serve all of our community,” Santa Ana City Councilmember Cecilia Iglesias said at the March 5 Santa Ana council meeting.
Armed with 1,500 signatures from an online petition supporting the school, about 100 CEC students and staff crowded last month’s city council meeting to support a long-term lease agreement with the city.
“We’re very excited,” said Jorge Mora, CEC’s ASG coordinator after the council approved the two-year license extension. “Now we gotta work with everyone else to make sure we get the long-term extension so we can keep it going for many generations.”
It is unclear which properties the city is now considering for a land conversion or when a long-term lease may be possible, but district officials are confident that CEC will stay in its current location.
“The Centennial Education Center is going to stay in that area,” RSCCD Trustee Phillip Yarbrough said.