Ponderosa Elementary, a new public school in a low-income Anaheim neighborhood, has amenities many families would envy: a built-in public library and a park next door with renovations planned, said to include a soccer field and gymnasium.
A joint-use agreement with the city gives students exclusive access to the library during school hours and public access after school hours and on weekends.
But eight months after the library first opened, its doors continue to close when school lets out. And residents involved in the park renovations are being told that the city won’t know before next spring whether the grants to fund the project have been approved.
“Folks were anticipating that this library would be open to the residents,” said Alejandra Ponce de León, a community organizer with the nonprofit Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, who has been organizing neighborhood meetings with Ponderosa neighbors.
At several community meetings last fall, the city helped residents design renovations to the adjacent Ponderosa Park. The city settled on a design that is said the include a soccer field, gymnasium, skate park and splash-pad water feature.
“Everybody was excited, the kids were excited,” said María de la Luz Rosales, a parent of two Ponderosa students. She said she was the designer of the park renovations.
Eighteen Ponderosa parents and neighbors gathered last week to discuss their disappointment with the delays. They expressed frustration over supposed plans for a new dog park in a wealthier Anaheim neighborhood while their park needs are delayed.
“It shows where the priorities lie for the city,” said Ponce de León. “You’re reducing the resources that are most crucial to the families and the community.”
A city spokeswoman, Ruth Ruiz, attributed the public library delay to the economic downturn and budget constraints. “When the economy turned, the additional hours had to be re-evaluated,” said Ruiz. “Each department had to adjust its own budget.”
Ruiz said the city contributed about $679,000 to the library’s construction. The estimated cost of running the library for four hours each weekday is about $135,000 per year, according to figures she provided.
Ruiz also noted that the city offers computer classes at the library on Wednesday evenings and said the city still plans to open the library to the community.
As for the park renovations, she said, it takes a varying amount of time to apply for and receive grant funding.
But Rosales said the city lead the community to believe the full library hours were supposed to start months ago.
“During the day, the kids here will get to have a library that’s about twice the size of one normally enjoyed by a school,” Terry Lowe, the city’s community services director, said in an Anaheim City School District video about the school’s opening.
“But after school,” Lowe added, “the city librarians will come on site and can provide library services after school, in the evenings, and on weekends, for the rest of the family.”
Rosales said that when the school and library first opened in January, a sign was posted on the library’s doors stating that after-school hours would begin in March. Later the sign was changed to say that the library would open several months after that. And after that, Rosales said, a sign was posted saying the library wouldn’t be opening during after-school hours due to budget constraints.
Ruiz, the city spokeswoman, said she wasn’t sure who posted the signs.
Maria Villegas, the principal of Ponderosa Elementary, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
Residents say Ponderosa Park has been associated with drug trafficking since the 1980s, and a report last year by the Anaheim school district mentioned the park’s reputation for crime.
“Ponderosa School is adjacent to a park notorious for crime problems, including gangs and drugs,” the report said. “In parent meetings prior to the opening of Ponderosa, parents indicated safety as a major concern.”
Asked whether the park renovations are an effort by the city to reduce gangs and drug dealing at the park, Ruiz, the city spokeswoman, said “there’s always the factor of creating safe communities.”
Parents and residents are organizing a meeting with city officials later this month to discuss their concerns about delays and safety. Ponce de León said that so far Anaheim City Council members Lorri Galloway and Kris Murray have indicated they will attend, and she hopes Mayor Tom Tait and other council members will also participate.
The meeting is scheduled at 6 p.m. Sept. 26 at Ponderosa Elementary, 2135 S. Mountain View Ave., Anaheim.
Nick Gerda is a Voice of OC intern. You can reach him directly at email@example.com