LOCAL

Compton Community College library opens seven years later than planned

Jewel Wade remembers the tense atmosphere at Compton Community College in 2006, when it was rumored the school would close.

"The whole school was kind of depressing because nobody knew what was going on," Wade recalled Tuesday.

State officials did strip the school of its accreditation and turned the campus into a satellite of a nearby two-year college. The $25-million library, which had been set to open in 2007, was found to be plagued with code violations and sat unused for nearly seven years before finally opening late last month after undergoing extensive renovations that cost an additional $4 million.

"It's great," Wade said as he studied in the building, which has been renamed the El Camino College-Compton Library Student Success Center. Wade received his associate's degree from Compton but returned to get a nursing degree.

"The campus has changed a whole lot, and it doesn't feel like we're going anywhere," he said.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, numerous officials recalled the defects in the original structure. One person said he found screws intended for wood rather than ones for metal holding the 45,000-square-foot building together.

Thomas Henry, the trustee appointed by the state to oversee the district, remembered tripping over a set of narrow stairs and saying, "Those can't be up to code" — and later finding out they weren't.

Barbara Beno, president of the state organization that accredits community and junior colleges, said she once saw rainwater dripping from the library's ceiling and furniture being pushed away from puddles.

"It was sad," she said. "You could see the bones of the building were beautiful but that there were so many problems."

The problems weren't limited to the library. State audits revealed financial fraud, fake enrollments and missing computer equipment. The school was eventually taken over by El Camino College, which is in nearby Torrance.

The Compton Community College District has not regained its accreditation but hopes to do so in several years.

Beno said the library is symbolic of the progress that has been made.

"They're in much better shape," she said of district officials.

Campus administrators agreed that the library, which is in the heart of campus, has special meaning, and that many students and community leaders have asked when it would be finished.

"It feels good not to have to answer this one question: 'When is that glass building going to open?'" said Keith Curry, the district's chief executive.

The two-story building has floor-to-ceiling windows in some parts and boasts four drop-in tutorial centers, an art gallery and a lab with 100 new computers.

The new computers have made a big difference to Ronda Brackins, who is finishing her second year. Brackins, who declined to give her age, works the overnight shift at Target and came to the library the first day it opened to use the high-speed Internet.

After an earthquake last month, she drove to school to make sure the library hadn't been damaged. "It's made such a big difference," said Brackins, who needs only three more classes to graduate. "I was hoping nothing bad happened to it."

jason.song@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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