ANTIOCH -- More than 190 acres of land that the Antioch school district bought 18 years ago in a much-criticized real estate deal is going to become part of a regional park.
The East Bay Regional Park board on Tuesday agreed to a complicated land deal to pay $305,000 for 191 acres of the Moller Ranch property. This expands the northern boundary of Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.
Antioch school officials say they are glad to get something back for the land -- part of a $2.6 million purchase of 206 acres made in 1996 with the intention of building schools on the property.
"We're cutting our losses a little bit, but I really think this is going to work out as a win-win for the entire community," Antioch Unified School Board President Joy Motts said. "What they want to do (with the land) is really phenomenal."
All told, the school district estimates it will sell the entire 206 acres for about $1.45 million, the rest coming from conservation easements.
Regional park officials say the land purchase off Somersville Road is critical to improving public access to the 8,300-acre regional park, the largest in eastern Contra Costa County.
The Moller Ranch property has some flat areas where a new park staging area and entrance could be developed, said Liz Musbach, the park district's land acquisition manager.
"It's going to complete our northern entrance and gateway to the preserve," Musbach said. "It would be a logical place for a new entrance."
Black Diamond's main entrance is farther uphill in a canyon at the end of a road.
Park officials say they are paying a lower price for the land -- some $1,600 per acre -- because the Antioch school district is selling a conservation easement that bars development on 156 acres and requires the property to be managed for the good of protected species such as the California red-legged frog.
In addition to the easement purchased by Aviano Farms as compensation for a development in southeast Antioch, Tim Forrester, Antioch's associate superintendent of business services, explains that about 15 acres on the northern part of the site will be sold to Discovery Builders, part of the Seeno construction family, where a water tank is planned to be built and there will be trail access.
The school district will consider final approval of the terms of the purchase and sales agreement at its board meeting Wednesday.
The Moller Ranch acquisition was mired in controversy, as critics questioned why the district would buy land where the terrain was too steep for building. A 1997 county grand jury report said the district engaged in "land speculation."
Antioch tried to turn the old barn and farmhouse once owned by the Arata family into a living museum but had to stop because of liability concerns, Forrester said.
Antioch and the park district have discussed the sale for years, but the school district hesitated as it was in a state financial hardship program until 2012, meaning money from the sale would have gone directly to the state.
Antioch stands to save about $22,000 each year in taxes, fire prevention and maintenance costs.
With the park district at the helm, Motts said there will now be opportunities for elementary schools and district academics to use the revamped facilities for learning about the region's history, the environment and habitat protection.