By Stephanie Raygoza
Created to help address the issue of overcrowded classrooms and to serve the outlying area of Poly High School enrollment, the middle school under construction at 1951 Cherry Ave. is anticipated to open in fall 2011, serving 800 students in the Signal Hill community, according to Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD ) board member Jon Meyer.
“It’s something we’ve wanted for as long as I’ve lived in Signal Hill,” said Signal Hill Mayor Larry Forester. “I’m very happy to see it happening. From what I see of it, I like what they’re doing, and it seems to be a rather sizable school.”
Construction of the middle school began two years ago at the 9.8-acre former GTE site and bumped into some minor environmental issues, however this has not affected the target completion date. Although issues were not specified, Forester did say construction has been a “long haul” because the land was highly contaminated and had to be remediated.
“We were really addressing the issue of overcrowding as the primary goal,” Meyer said. “Once again the community collaborated, and this was one of their recommendations. So I think both Signal Hill and the outlying area of the Poly High School will both be pleased that it’s going to be a beautiful facility.”
The school, funded by the voter-approved Measure K bond passed in 1998, was not affected by the recent string of budget cuts and is expected to take pressure off of Butler Middle School, located to the west, just north of PCH.
Forester, who has helped lobby for the middle school through the years, said, “We actually petitioned and went around to citizens, and they were absolutely 100 percent for it. Our students- sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders- went somewhere within the LBUSD– somewhere within 50 square miles, and it wasn’t a sense of community.”
The middle school will have 31 classrooms for students in grades six through eight, a library and media center, a health office, and an open quad area with hardscape and landscape areas.
“The whole idea was, ‘Where could our students with the middle-school system, which was established by the LBUSD, go?’ said Forester. “Middle-school sense of community is as important to me as in grammar school kindergarten through fifth grade.”
Meyer stressed the importance of the school’s conservation facility for students, which, he added, will be environmentally sound in terms of storm runoff improvements, increased water permeability, and the use of recycled construction material when allowed.
Energy-saving air conditioning and heating systems will also be installed, along with high-efficiency lighting systems and water-conservation fixtures. An indoor air-quality management and activity pollution prevention plan is currently in place during the construction.
Its outdoor facilities include a soccer field, five basketball courts and new gymnasium, which will be open for use to the community for sporting events outside of school hours.
Forester also mentioned some logistic matters that still need to be worked out, such as the bottleneck area of Cherry Avenue and how students would be protected. He did confirm that the City would be installing a signal light at the crosswalk near E. 19th Street.
“One of my big fears was that you’re going to have children crossing that street, and I needed a signal,” said Forester. “I didn’t want a crosswalk, I needed a signal. There’s a crosswalk there, but I’m not sure how many people pay attention to it.”
As construction reaches completion, the LBUSD will focus its attention on hiring faculty, a process which Meyer said would take into consideration teachers displaced because of recent budget cuts.
“The law speaks to the issue of seniority, over which we don’t have any say, but yes, displaced teachers from other school sites will have the opportunity to then be on the staff at this new school,” Meyer said.
Budget cuts and low enrollment also resulted in the closing of Burroughs Elementary School, which Meyer said would be used in the future to house offices that are currently downtown with classified personnel staff. “We’ll probably move into that Burroughs facility, which will save us money from leasing buildings in the downtown area,” Meyer said.
Signal Hill residents will get first option at enrolling in the middle school, a privilege Forester has described as 10 years long overdue; however specific enrollment numbers must still be met to maintain the school.
“I would hope they have the average daily attendance (ADA) to keep it operating properly,” Forester said. “If you don’t have the ADA you can build all the schools you want with all the bond money you want, but you can’t maintain them.”
The middle school, which is funded by $38 million in measure funds, has yet to be named, and Meyer said community recommendations are always appreciated.
“The City of Signal Hill has suggested a name for the school, and I know we always have a committee when we name the new school, but we certainly want input from the leaders of Signal Hill in terms of naming because, really, it is in their backyard,” Meyer said.
Forester and the Signal Hill City Council have proposed the school to be named after a particular female figure who has been significant to the city– Jessie Nelson. “We wanted something that meant something to us,” Forester said. “We felt it would be apropos to be the first woman mayor in Southern California and to have it named after her.”