Keeping Mary Tone Open Possible
By Mike Harris
“We want to know if we have a home or not,” Dave Stuart, executive director for Hearts & Lives community service organization told Rim of the World school board members on March 8. Stuart's simple request touched at the heart of why the school board was holding a special afternoon meeting at the Mary Tone Community Center in Crestline.
The answer the district's lawyer gave board members later in the meeting offered everyone a ray of hope.
Board members were trying to identify what options were available to them to keep Mary Tone open as a community center, and if it could keep the five tenants it currently has at the former elementary school.
“We were in this from the beginning,” Stuart said. “The idea was to be a community service center, a one-stop shop for people in need.”
Hearts & Lives, DOVES, WIC, members of the Mountain Arts Network and Arrowhead Books currently are the school district's tenants.
A complaint about the lack of parking at the facility, however, sparked an inquiry from the county that eventually questioned whether the property was now subject to county zoning and land use requirements.
Because Mary Tone is no longer being used as a school, would Rim of the World School District need to request a rezoning of the property, and to come into compliance with ADA requirements?
Board members insist there is no money to make major improvements at the facility beyond simple maintenance.
On hand to try to answer questions was Constance Schwindt, partner with the law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo.
The law firm specializes in advising California school districts, community college districts, and other public agencies throughout the state in all areas of school construction and facilities matters. The firm represents around 400 school districts in the state.
Schwindt said under Section 38180 of the California Education Code, every school facility is considered to be a civic center and by law must be available to groups to use.
Additionally, any school civic center would not fall under a county's jurisdiction.
“It really is the simplest and easiest answer,” Schwindt later told this newspaper.
She presented other options available to the district, ranging from leasing to selling the property, but restrictions and conditions would be prohibitive.
The key to having groups use any Rim school facility as a civic center is for the district to have a written policy.
While the state education code is unspecific about how long a group could use a facility, Schwindt said her law firm advises clients to limit use to one year, then a group would need to reapply.
And because the facility would be open to any group, she said, any group could apply for any space including that area of a facility currently being used.
For example, some other group could request the space currently occupied by Hearts & Lives.
Since it was a workshop, board members weren't able to make any decisions. However, the question of reaffirming the district's Mary Tone site as a civic center, pursuant to California Education Code section 38130 et seq., is on the board's agenda for its March 15 meeting.
Stuart later told this newspaper that Hearts & Lives' board met last Friday, and voted to continue looking for another location as a way to keep its options open.
Sandy Benson, director of outreach services for DOVES, said her group has decided to stay at Mary Tone.
“We will sit tight,” she said. “I felt hopeful after the meeting. Our first choice is to stay where we are.”