Legal settlement paves way for construction of long-awaited stadium at University High School

The Irvine Unified School District and a local community group have settled a lawsuit over plans to build a second district stadium, paving the way for construction of the long-anticipated facility at University High School.

Under the terms of the agreement reached Thursday between IUSD and the group known as Responsible Land Use First, a stadium advisory committee will be established to generate input from community members and other district stakeholders. In addition, IUSD has agreed to pay litigation expenses.

“We are extremely pleased to resolve this suit, allowing our district to finally move forward with construction of an eagerly awaited second district stadium,” said Sue Kuwabara, president of the IUSD Board of Education. “This beautiful facility will be a great benefit to our students, as well as the entire Irvine community, for years to come.”

Uni Principal John Pehrson also expressed excitement upon learning that the stadium was another step closer to reality, noting that all students in Irvine will benefit.

“This was made possible through huge community support and a school board that always puts the needs of students first,” Pehrson said. “We look forward to our first game, and we plan to celebrate with all who will join us.”

All four of IUSD’s comprehensive high schools currently share a single stadium at Irvine High, increasing the need for Thursday night football games. The proposed 2,940-seat venue, which would serve as the home field for University and Woodbridge high schools, would feature bleachers, elevated field lighting, a public address system, a scoreboard and other common stadium amenities, including restrooms and a ticket booth.

The cost of the project has been estimated at about $8.4 million, and the district’s facilities reserves have been identified as a potential funding source. Per the state’s Education Code, these dollars must be spent on capital needs and cannot be used to pay for salaries or operating expenses.

In June 2009, audience members cheered as the IUSD Board of Education unanimously approved construction of the new facility on the north side of the Uni campus where the football field and athletic track are located. Still, there were some who opposed the project, specifically questioning the impact of a stadium on local neighborhoods.

The following month, the City of Irvine and Responsible Land Use First filed separate legal challenges to the stadium’s Environmental Impact Report. The city dropped its lawsuit in March 2010.

“With this final legal hurdle cleared, we are thrilled to be able to give students, parents and community members the stadium they’ve been asking for since University High School was established,” Superintendent Gwen Gross said. “The stadium at Uni will be a great source of pride for generations of Irvine residents.”

Mark Cunningham, Uni’s athletic director, agreed that the facility will be a boon for the community and all IUSD students.

“All four high schools’ students, band members, and athletes will have now have relief,” Cunningham said. “They won’t have to worry about coming home after a Thursday night game at 9:30 or 10 p.m., having dinner, then completing their homework and maybe studying for a test the next day. This stadium will be great for kids, and it’s about time this happened.”