An international education company is looking to develop a new campus on the site of the former Trinity Broadcasting Network headquarters in Costa Mesa.
EF Education First’s proposal would transform the 6,125-acre property at 3150 Bear St. into an immersive English-language learning center with up to 800 students living on-site.
“That’s really what our students are working towards. They come here to learn English, to immerse themselves in American culture, and we have students from all over the world all the time,” company vice president Shawna Marino said in an interview Friday. “When you enter our campuses, you feel like you are entering a mini-UN. It is a very energetic, diverse and exciting experience.
To expand the envisioned EF International Language Campus, the company would renovate the existing three-story, 68,000-square-foot building for faculty and staff offices, a cafeteria, student services area, and approximately 50 classrooms. . Also on offer are three new student residential buildings – one four-story, the other two – with the tallest backing onto the 405 Freeway.
Marino said the plan is “never to have more than 1,500 students enrolled in total.” Those who did not live locally would stay with nearby host families.
Trinity Broadcasting Network – which bills itself as the world’s largest Christian broadcaster – originally acquired the Bear Street property in 1996. Over the years, the site has become well known for its distinctive facade and dazzling Christmas lights.
“The Trinity Broadcasting Network building and site…is quite iconic and when we first heard about it we were quite intrigued as we are not afraid to undertake difficult renovations,” Marino said. “We find the challenge exciting and really enjoy using the existing space creatively for our purposes.”
TBN sold the site in 2017 to Greenlaw Partners, an Irvine-based commercial real estate firm. EF Education First is in escrow to buy the site, although Marino declined to disclose the sale price.
EF Education First was founded in Lund, Sweden in 1965. The private company today has 52,000 employees and more than 600 schools and offices around the world – a network that includes campuses in Santa Barbara, San Francisco and San Diego.
Marino said the TBN property is “truly a standout location,” largely because it’s so close to the coast and shopping, retail and entertainment destinations such as South Coast Plaza, Metro Pointe, the Lab and the Camp.
This proximity is vital, she said, “because our students don’t own vehicles or drive.”
“We want them to be in a place where they can walk, cycle and take public transport, so this site is fantastic,” she said.
EF students are typically young adults – typically between the ages of 18 and 26 – and education can last anywhere from a few weeks to six months at a time.
Over the past few months, company representatives have held several community meetings to discuss and refine the project, as well as spoken and met one-on-one with nearby residents on numerous occasions, according to Marino.
“I think we’re in a good position to understand everyone’s needs and what will work best for us and for the neighborhood,” she said.
EF will eventually need to obtain a conditional use permit to proceed with the project, which requires a public hearing and the blessing of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission.
The city council will decide on Tuesday whether to retain a consultant to prepare project documentation related to California’s Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
The proposed deal with Environmental Science Associates would be for a maximum of $97,537 – with EF covering that cost.
Marino said the goal is to open the campus in 2020.
Residents interested in learning more about the project or sharing their thoughts can contact EF Education First at EFCostaMesa@ef.com or (949) 873-6811.
Tuesday’s city council meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Costa Mesa Senior Center, 695 W. 19th St.
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