The front of Northridge Middle School was quiet Thursday morning — the asphalt was still wet with rain, and there was no one in front of the main auditorium or school entrance, a beige building with green accents.
About 75 maintenance and operations workers hustled across an area that used to be open asphalt space. In an informal uniform of jeans, black sweatshirts and highlighter-yellow vests, they were making a new school in the backyard of an old one. It was a six-month job, and they had three weeks.
"It's kind of a model of people working together for a purpose and for emergencies in other parts of the country," said Scott Schmerelson, the L.A. Unified School District board member for the area.
Re-creating a school is a better word than “making,” perhaps. A massive gas leak near their home school has caused about 1,100 students to be relocated from Porter Ranch Community School to Northridge Middle, eight miles from their home school. And between 730 and 750 students from Castlebay Lane Elementary in Porter Ranch are expected to move to Sunny Brae Elementary in Winnetka.
Robert Doyon is the school district’s construction superintendent for the relocation project. He has been at Northridge or Sunny Brae from 5 a.m. until about 7:30 p.m. every day since Dec. 18, except Christmas.
The middle school students will be more integrated with the rest of the school — they’ll occupy 12 previously empty classrooms on the main campus. One of those will belong to Rosie Van Zyl, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Porter Ranch.
She’s used to a state-of-the-art lab room, with gleaming floors, sinks lining the walls, gas lines and a chemical storage unit.
The students return Tuesday, and new classrooms will involve frustrations for the first few weeks, Van Zyl said, like losing class time to teach students where things go and reaching for items that aren't there.
At the front of the class Thursday morning, Van Zyl peeled the tape off one box, then opened the four-way fold in another, then turned to the table behind her and peeked into a third.
“My plant survived,” she said, smiling as she cupped the clay pot in her hands. It held the plant that all Porter Ranch teachers had received when the school opened three years ago.
Staff reporters Joy Resmovits and Howard Blume contributed to this report.