BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
If all goes according to plan, the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) will open a middle school in Signal Hill in 2011. The project is proposed for the 9.7-acre site west of Cherry Avenue between 20th Street in Long Beach and the Signal Hill city boundary.
“This project was approved in 2005 but was put on hold while the district completed a school facilities need study, addressed funding shortfalls and remediated soils contamination left by previous land uses,” said Gary Jones, Signal Hill’s director of community development in a recent report he presented to the Signal Hill City Council. “The district is preparing to begin construction in July 2009, with a construction schedule of 18 to 24 months.”
The site of the proposed school was part of the Pacific Electric Railroad right-of-way. The announcement of the planned development came as good news to many Signal Hill families who would like their children to attend a middle school closer to home.
While members of the city council also welcomed the announced plans for the school, they expressed misgivings of the school’s impact on traffic. Jones explained that the school’s main entrance would be along Cherry Avenue with a small parking lot for visitors and a bus loading/unloading area for special education students. “The main student drop-off and pick-up area would be along the south side of the site with access to Cherry Avenue,” Jones said.
Councilwoman Tina Hansen said that it is well documented that in such cases, parents in a hurry tend to drop kids off and pick them up on the main street closest to the main entrance. That would cause traffic tie-ups and pupils having to cross the street during peak traffic times. “This is such a recipe for disaster for traffic circulation,” she added.
Jones said that a traffic light was needed near the school’s main entrance and there would probably have to be a meeting of school and city officials to discuss ways to mitigate traffic problems. “The city has no land use authority over the district’s school development plans, but schools must consult with cities about school projects and develop public works improvements, including sidewalk and street plans consistent with city plans and standards,” Jones explained.
The LBUSD approved the environmental impact report (EIR) for the project in 2005. Phase II soils environmental studies undertaken at the time found soils contamination at the site. Jones noted that district representatives have informed him that soils remediation work is now underway with oversight provided by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control,
According to the school’s description in the EIR, “The proposed GTE middle school includes 850 seats to accommodate overcrowding in the Franklin and Jefferson attendance areas. The new school would comprise approximately 81,400 square feet of new facilities on an approximately 423,000-square-foot site.”
The document goes on to state that the school would contain 30 classrooms, administrative offices, a library/multimedia room and other support facilities. The outdoor campus would include a soccer field, basketball courts, hardscape, landscaped areas, as well as open quad area and open fields.
The small parking lot would contain 12 parking spaces while the larger staff parking lot north of 20th Street would accommodate up to 80 vehicles. According to the EIR, “The project is estimated to require a daily full-time staff of approximately 40 teachers and 15 administrators.”
Jones noted that district staff and architects have agreed to submit plans to Signal Hill for review and comment.
Echoing Hansen’s remarks, he explained that his department is very interested in how the school buses and drop-off of students will affect traffic. “The Cherry Avenue widening project currently in the design phase and right-of-way acquisition phase includes a raised, landscaped median extending south from 20th Street,” Jones said. “The design of the Cherry Avenue and 20th Street and the design of the on-site circulation system must address traffic safety requirements.”
He said the current plan does not include a traffic Signal at Cherry and 20th, which could make pedestrian crossings dangerous there. The traffic signal nearest the proposed school is one block north at Cherry and 21st adjacent to Alvarado School.