After years of attempting to expand athletic facilities, the school put plans for a new parking structure on hold and entered an agreement to purchase Weddington Golf & Tennis with intentions to build a Community Athletics Center, President Rick Commons announced in an email to the school community Oct. 30.
Chairman of the Board of Trustees Philip Holthouse said he is unwilling to disclose the sale price of the property before escrow closes and Commons said the purchase price must remain confidential until it is made public knowledge.
The 16-acre property is located less than a mile from the upper school campus between Whitsett Avenue and the LA River.
It currently includes a driving range, nine-hole golf course and 16 tennis courts.
The new athletics center will be open to students and the greater Studio City community.
“It has the possibility to be a win for our immediate neighbors, a win for Studio City and a win for Harvard-Westlake,” Commons said.
When school initially purchased the property that became the upper school campus in 1937, plans included land that extended further down Coldwater Canyon and toward Ventura Boulevard, Commons said. Because the school did not have the proper funds to purchase the property at the time, Commons said there have always been intentions to acquire more land. Previous President Tom Hudnut told Commons that the school has been trying to acquire the Weddington property since 1989.
“I think of this as a purchase 80 years later to rectify the situation that we should have had long ago, which is fields adjacent to campus,” Commons said. “The school has long felt that for a school of 865 students, one field is not enough.”
The design process for the athletic facilities, which Commons estimated to take up to two years, has not yet started. He said he looks forward to hearing from students and neighbors about their ideas for the new athletic facilities.
Commons said the purchase will help the school’s mission of trying to achieve balance in students’ lives.
“We are literally able to buy time by making this purchase because we can enable students to have far less travel time to their practices and games,” Commons said. “Kids could perhaps have eighth period classes where they haven’t been able to because they’ve needed to go to the softball field. Or they could get home in time for dinner with their families.”
Before Harvard-Westlake started negotiations to purchase the land, owners of the Weddington property were in the process of building apartments to replace the current green space, owner Matt Becker said.
But after the school approached the owners to begin negotiations, Becker said the owners were excited to move forward with Harvard-Westlake and their plans to preserve the property.
“We couldn’t have found a better partner to purchase the property,” Becker said. “It will serve the community in the best possible way. To have an open space with athletic fields and recreational space for the community is the most important thing.”
The open layout and flat landscape of the new property allows for more building opportunities than are available at the Upper School, Holthouse said.
“Right now we’ve got this big piece of land and we can really start imagining what we might be able to do with it over a period of time,” Holthouse said. “I can’t say the opportunities are endless, but they’re definitely vast.”
Harvard-Westlake will re-evaluate the current plans for the Parking, Safety & Athletic Improvement Project and explore parking alternatives after receiving complaints from neighbors.
New ideas include increasing parking on campus to replace plans to add a structure on the west side of Coldwater Canyon, which would require a retaining wall and a bridge to connect the structure to the campus, Commons said.
Commons said the athletics center will also ease neighbors’ concerns about an increase in traffic because the new space will alleviate traffic congestion around the upper school campus. He said he hopes to earn the neighbors’ trust and intends to make the development process transparent and thoughtful.
LA City Council member Paul Krekorian, who represents the Studio City community, released a public statement following the school’s announcement.
“I’m glad that Harvard-Westlake is shelving its plans to build a parking structure across the street from its Coldwater campus,” Krekorian said in his press release. “They deserve credit for listening to the serious concerns that the community and I raised about the project, and their announced agreement to purchase Weddington Golf & Tennis shows they are ready to move in another direction.”