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New Mission Viejo arts plan leaves after-school program without a home

STAFF WRITER

MISSION VIEJO – For a number of years, the Thomas R. Potocki Conference Center has played host to cultural arts programs and an after-school program for middle school students.

But among the recommendations in a proposed Cultural Arts Master Plan was one to turn the center into a full-time visual arts space. That would leave Outta Bounds, a nonprofit organization that provides after school programs to Newhart Middle School students, without a home.

On Tuesday, Mission Viejo City Council members faced what they called a difficult decision regarding the fate of the center.

After listening to speakers from both sides for more than two hours, the council voted 4-1 to approve the arts master plan and effectively turn the Potocki Center into visual arts center, where artists can display their works and hold classes.

Councilman Greg Raths asked the council to table the item, saying he believed the city should find a way to allow both sides to continue sharing the center.

“We would suggest that you take what’s working and make it better,” Scott Ramirez, executive director of Outta Bounds, told the council. “Cultural Arts and Outta Bounds should work together to create a shared solution at Potocki for the residents. We’ve been asking for a solution like this since 2015.”

Members of the cultural arts committee complained that they’ve been unable to expand services at the center because of space taken up by Outta Bounds on weekday afternoons.

“We are a large community,” Marillyn Brame, Cultural Arts Committee chairwoman, said. “We cannot grow if we do not have more space.”

Mayor Wendy Bucknum called it a “very tough decision.”

“That’s what we’re up here to do,” she said. “We make tough decisions, we try to balance everybody and we will find a solution for our middle schoolers.”

The Cultural Arts Master Plan aims to take a strategic approach to fulfilling the need for cultural arts programs and services in the city, said Genesis Hansen, director of library and cultural services.

Richard Stein, executive director of Arts OC, presented findings from a community outreach over a 10-month period, which started in July 2015.

From that outreach, Arts OC came up with six recommendations for the city to enhance its cultural arts plan over five to 10 years. Among them: diversifying programs by reinventing events and creating new ones, re-energizing the city’s art in public places program, growing the city’s investment in the arts and culture through public and private sources and developing visual and performing arts facilities.

Speakers for Outta Bounds pleaded with the City Council to reconsider renewing its lease. Last month, the Community Services Commission voted 6-1 to deny that request.

Ramirez said since his organization began leasing the center in 2009, more than 1,000 kids have called the Potocki Center their home away from home.

The organization provides activities, homework and tutoring help, holiday break and summer camps and special events for school-age youth.

Jennifer Blyn, who has a daughter in the program, said she is supportive of the arts and understands they are critical in the growth of children. But she said she could not support the expansion of the arts program at the detriment of the Outta Bounds program.

“Outta Bounds gives her a safe location to go to,” Blyn said. “She gets homework support, a peer group to interact with and another set of adults in her life that support and encourage her. That benefit to a preteen is immeasurable.”

Ramirez said other locations had been considered, but the city’s library is too far away from the middle school and the Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center does not have enough space to host the program.

Councilwoman Trish Kelley said she and her colleagues had received information that city staff notified Outta Bounds last year that its lease may not be renewed again.

Ramirez said Wednesday that he had never received formal notice that his lease renewal would be a problem until recently.

Several council members made suggestions that could include children from all four middle schools in the city. They said the group could use the MV Shuttle to transport children from the schools to a single location or coordinate with the districts to use the campuses after school in a partnership with the YMCA.

Outta Bounds will have access to the center until August, when its lease expires.

“Our city has a heart for kids. Young people are an important priority here in the city,” Kelley said. “I do think it’s a wonderful program, it has served our young people.”

Contact the writer: npercy@scng.com

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