BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) plans to build two new schools in Signal Hill, and one of them could be up and running in two years. Work has already begun work on the middle school planned for the 9.8-acre former GTE site, located at 1951 Cherry Avenue. No work has begun yet on the eight-acre site located on Hill Street and Redondo Avenue. The district hopes to build a thematic high school there sometime in the near future.
“The design of the new middle school received approval from the state architect in July of this year,” said Chris Eftychiou, LBUSD public information director, noting that the plan also successfully went through the state’s very stringent environmental review process. He explained that, by state law, school-building designs must be approved by the state rather than the city or county planning departments.
“The new school has been designed for approximately 850 middle school students in grades six to eight,” Eftychiou said. “The main entrance to the school is along Cherry Avenue with a small parking lot of 12 spaces for visitors and a bus loading/unloading for special-education students.” He noted that the main parent drop-off and pick-up area runs along the southernmost portion of the site entering from Cherry Avenue and exiting onto 20th Street to the north of the site. “Staff parking will be on the north side of 20th Street in a lot with 80 parking spaces,” he added.
Several months ago, during one of its meetings, the Signal Hill City Council discussed the planned middle school. Several council members and city staff expressed concerns about how the school would impact the planned widening of Cherry Avenue,traffic and the possibility of children running across that section of Cherry Avenue, which currently does not have a traffic signal.
To address those concerns, LBUSD representatives began meeting with Signal Hill staff a few months ago. “We have been working carefully with the school district on the widening,” said City Manager Ken Farfsing, explaining that the school construction and the widening project will be done at the same time and coordinated so that neither project disrupts the other. “We came to an agreement that the city is going to install traffic lights there before the opening of the school,” added Peggy Williams, LBUSD’s facilities consultant. “The district will participate in the funding of that, but it will be a city project.” She explained that because 20th Street is offset, there will have to be one traffic light on the west side and one on the east side of Cherry Avenue.
Eftychiou noted that the site of the new school is where the southern boundary of Signal Hill meets the boundary of Long Beach. “It’s also adjacent to the site of the planned Kroc Community Center,” he said. “That will allow for some beneficial joint use between the two facilities, which will be great for the community.”
According to Eftychiou, the new school will have 31 classrooms, administrative offices, a library/media center, gymnasium, health office, serving kitchen, multipurpose room and other support facilities. Outdoor amenities will include a soccer filed, five basketball courts and an open quad area with hardscape and landscape areas. He noted that the gymnasium, locker rooms and the school’s regulation-size soccer field are all designed to be used by the community.
Eftychiou said the projected construction cost of the 89,288-square-foot school is estimated at $38 million and McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. is building it. (The company has offices throughout the United States, including one in Newport Beach.)
The money for the project is coming from revenues raised by Measure A, Measure K and the Fund 35 School Facility Program. Eftychiou explained that those monies enable LBUSD to build new schools in spite of the school district’s significant budget reduction. “The one bright spot is that we do have funds set aside specifically for new construction and modernization,” he said, but he acknowledged that funding the new school’s administration, faculty and staff will be a challenge. “But we will find a way to staff the school,” he said. “We do have two years to prepare for that.”
Currently, work crews are demolishing the foundations of the GTE buildings that used to be on the site and grading the property.
Eftychiou also talked about the desire of many Signal Hill parents to have their children attend a middle school closer to home rather than being bussed to schools in distant parts of Long Beach. “The idea behind our facilities master plan, which includes this project, is to build schools in the neighborhoods where children live so that we can reduce bussing across town,” he said. “This school will be in Signal Hill, very close to Alvarado and Signal Hill elementary schools.” He noted that LBUSD officials have not yet decided on the exact boundary areas of the new school, but students graduating from Alvarado and Signal Hill schools would most likely be attending the new middle school. He added that some pupils graduating from Burroughs Elementary School (in the north section of Signal Hill) might also be attending the new middle school.
“Obviously a middle school is something the community has desired for a number of years,” Farfsing added, noting that city officials are pleased with LBUSD’s decision to build the school on the GTE site. ”That way students that live in Signal Hill have an option of attending a school that is right here,” he said.
According to Eftychiou, LBUSD is also considering building a small thematic high school on the 8.5-acre parcel near Redondo Avenue and Hill Street. “There is no immediate timeframe for that project,” he said. “We are working to expand the options available to seniors upon their high school graduation and smaller thematic high schools is one way of doing that.” He explained that in addition to providing general education requirements, thematic high schools also offer classes in specific fields of endeavor such as nursing, electronics and other trades.
While the thematic high school may not be built for several years, LBUSD officials expect the new middle school to be operating by September 2011. “It’s going to be a great school,” Eftychiou said. “I think it will be good for the community.”