Student life at the David Starr Jordan High School continues as usual, now that the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) has begun the initial phase of its efforts to transform the aging complex into a modern, state-of the-art campus. By mid afternoon on a partly cloudy day on Tuesday, Feb. 4, thousands of students on their way off campus filed past tall chain-link fences that protected former athletic fields.
That part of the school complex on the north end of the property used to host teens at bat on the baseball fields or saw varsity students practicing their backhand on the tennis courts. For now, the area is dust. A few construction machines are parked nearby, ready to do more work to prepare the ground to build temporary classrooms in time for fall.
Bonds issued through Measure K, a ballot measure approved by voters several years ago, will be paying for the project that’s estimated to cost about $135.6 million.
Vivien Hao, the project communications coordinator for Measure K, in a phone interview Monday explained why the project to build a new campus over the next eight to 10 years is an unusual one for the school district.
“I don’t think Long Beach Unified has ever done this before, where we’ve attempted to completely rebuild the campus and keep 3,600 students on campus at that same time,” Hao said. “You can imagine how challenging that would be.”
She said in a follow-up email that the total cost of the first phase is about $71 million and that the LBUSD already has that money and more available in Measure K funds. Hao said that the school district planned to issue another bond later this year. She added that there shouldn’t be any issues with funding Phases 2 through 4 of construction.
According to the Measure K website, Phase 1A began last month. The plans call for construction of classrooms and parking on the north side of campus. While these new temporary structures are scheduled to be ready in time for the fall season, Hao explained that not all of the old classrooms on the campus will be demolished at one time. It’s one of the main reasons why the whole project may take up to a decade, she explained.
Other subsequent phases that include construction of the cafeteria, additional classrooms and parking are scheduled for later this year, beginning this July.
Hao acknowledged that the new construction will affect life on and off campus.
“We understand that this is going to be an inconvenience to the community at-large as well as the student population,” Hao said, “but I think everyone believes that this is a project that …will be worth it.”
Students at Jordan have noticed a number of changes on campus over the last month, however, overall, Jordan High Principal Shawn Ashley said they are adapting to the change.
“I think they find [the renovation]– like most of us find renovation– irritating, but not overwhelming,” Ashley said. He added that the kids are very excited for their campus even though they will have graduated long before construction will be done.
Ashley acknowledged that the athletic programs are the areas that felt the immediate change last month. Baseball will be played next door at Houghton Park. Jordan High used to have five tennis courts on campus, but now tennis practice has also relocated to the park.
In an interview Tuesday, David Scott, the coach for the boys’ tennis program, said in an interview that the varsity and junior-varsity programs need to share the use of the two available tennis courts at Houghton Park. That afternoon, he pitched a few balls over to the handful of junior-varsity students who, with rackets in hand, took turns to swing at the neon-green orbs at the Houghton Park courts. Scott pointed over to the bleachers in the distance, where the more experienced varsity students were training. He said that the varsity students and the junior-varsity students are alternating days when they can take turns practicing at the courts.
Houghton Park also gets the advantage of any upgrades that the school district requests and finances. In January, the Parks and Recreation Commission approved a request from the school district, granting the necessary permit to make minor upgrades to the baseball area, said Bob Livingstone, who serves as the contract management officer for the Parks, Recreation & Marine Department at the City of Long Beach.
The joint-use agreement between Jordan High School and the City for shared use of the Houghton Park baseball facilities dates back a few decades to the 1970s, Livingstone acknowledged during a phone interview Wednesday. He added that the school district can request to make improvements to the park, subject to the City-approval process.
Hao acknowledged in a statement that the school district is in the process of negotiating a new agreement with the City that will allow the district to use more park facilities in exchange for the City to use school facilities. She explained that this contract would cover an “in kind” exchange, not a financial one.
Rex Richardson, a spokesperson for 9th District Councilmember Steven Neal and a candidate for the 9th-district council seat in the upcoming municipal election, seemed excited that beyond the Jordan High School construction work, Houghton Park and the surrounding areas will also see a transformation over the next few years. He said in an interview Wednesday that about $3 million in one-time funds has already been approved towards the dream of a new community center. He explained that the initial funds may help with the initial phases of planning and development. The full cost of a community center may be closer to $7 million, but he expressed confidence that the balance of the needed funds can be raised. He predicted that there will be a new community center in five years. Richardson also noted that down the street, plans for a new library on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and South Street are already underway.
By late afternoon, many of the students still lingered in the park next door to their campus. With a project that takes almost a decade to complete, many of them may not be close by to see the changes to come.
Their principal said that the students do understand that the school has a long-term future, long after they say goodbye to their campus and move on to bigger, better plans.
“I think they’re smart enough to realize that when you build a school, you’re building it for the next six generations,” Ashley said. “You’re not building [the school] just for the kids that are there right now.”