The Laguna Beach Unified School District will pay more for design studies for a tennis court project whose scope remains uncertain.

The board of trustees on Tuesday unanimously approved spending $35,100 from the district's general fund for project architect LPA Inc. to conduct a topographic survey and design a wheelchair-accessible ramp for five of the six courts at Laguna Beach High School.

The topographic survey will measure the elevation of the existing surface in multiple locations, district Facilities Director Ted Doughty wrote in an email. The measurements are used to establish a framework for the placement of the new playing surface at the proper elevation and slope.

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This latest money is in addition to the $69,000 approved by the board in October for LPA to design a project with post-tension courts, which contain tightened steel cables embedded in a concrete slab. The cables are designed to prevent cracking.

The courts are in need of repair and suffer from extensive cracking and slick surfaces, which create potential hazards for players, according to residents.

The construction project itself is projected to cost $1.15 million for mandatory work or $1.7 million if certain amenities are included, a district staff report said, explaining that the numbers were arrived at by an independent estimator hired by LPA Inc.

Though trustees approved the additional spending, some were displeased that the costs weren't made known earlier in the process.

"With all the expertise, they should have said, 'OK, there is a real likelihood [the $35,100] should have been in here from the start,'" board President Jan Vickers said. "They know better and now we're stuck."

The $69,000 did not cover a ramp design, district assistant superintendent of business services Dean West said.

At a special meeting in January, LPA reported that the current concrete ramp, between the courts and the pool, is too steep, does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and would cost $238,241 to replace.

"[LPA] knew in January they would build a ramp if the board approved it but didn't know the cost of designing it," West said. Ramp design covers $20,100 of the $35,100 the board approved Tuesday.

The Division of the State Architect must approve the design.

"It's better to do it right than to get a slap from DSA and have to redraw [the ramp] again," West said. "LPA is committed to this project; [the ramp] is only one element."

The district and city are also grappling with a higher-than-expected total project budget, which LPA also reported at the January meeting.

The school district and city, which share the courts through a joint-use agreement, agreed last year on an estimated budget of $620,000. The city agreed to pay 70% of that cost and the district would pay 30%.

The school district will fund all of the $35,100 for additional design.

But the city does not have current funding available to cover its portion of the revised budget, Deputy City Manager Ben Siegel said. At $1.15 million, the city would need to pay $770,000, while the district would contribute $330,000.

"We're looking into options for more of a maintenance type of project [not post-tension] consistent with when the project was first budgeted," Siegel said. "The city owns and operates several courts in town [including Alta Laguna Park], so we're working with those contractors to see what the initial and long-term costs would be."

Trustee William Landsiedel questioned spending more money on a project that does not have city approval.

"I've supported this project from the start, but I've become very troubled by this," Landsiedel said. "We're starting to throw a lot of money into this project. If [the city] determines not to fund this, if they aren't persuaded, what are we going to do?"

Trustee Theresa O'Hare favored spending money on the design to move closer to obtaining bids from prospective contractors.

"I'm sticking to my original goal of getting a bid [for the entire project]," O'Hare said.

The $35,100 approved by the school board included $9,100 for staging equipment and any required permits.

The district and city will hold their annual joint meeting April 22 at Laguna Beach Unified headquarters, when West anticipates officials will discuss the tennis court project.