High School Site Could Take Rosemead Homes

Times Staff Writer

Although the Alhambra school board will not make a final decision on the site of a new high school here until next year, some families that could be displaced by it are already worried and organizing to save their homes.

"We're getting calls about it every day," said school Supt. Bruce Peppin.

Peppin said the school board has declared a preference for a 42.6-acre site on Graves Avenue, across from the Maryvale Orphanage, but will not commit itself to buying the property until an environmental impact report is prepared. The site extends north to Fern Avenue and lies generally between Del Mar and New avenues.

The site could be acquired through condemnation or negotiated purchase.

Three other sites are under consideration as well, Peppin said, but the Graves Avenue site has generated most of the concern from residents and property owners. The preferred site contains 174 lots, developed in single-family homes and apartments. District officials estimated that 250 families live there, but opponents dispute that figure. In the middle of the site are five new homes that are in the final stages of construction and are for sale for $129,000 and up.

The Alhambra School District serves high school students in the southern half of Rosemead. The northern half of the city is in the El Monte Union High School District, which operates Rosemead High School. The new high school would be the Alhambra district's first in Rosemead.

About 200 residents voiced opposition to the preferred site at a school board meeting last week.

"They naturally don't want to have their houses condemned or be forced to move," Peppin said, adding that school officials will look at an alternative site suggested by residents. Peppin said the board also agreed to hold a public informational meeting sometime in the next few weeks to answer questions about site selection.

Gil Barron, one of the organizers of the opposition, said there is no question that a high school is needed to handle rising enrollment, but he criticized the selection of the Graves Avenue site. Barron said he believes school district consultants substantially underestimated the number of homes on the property. He said an analysis of street addresses reported by the post office indicates that 500 to 700 families live there, more than twice as many as the district has estimated.

Barron said there is a potential site in Rosemead that would displace far fewer homes, and school officials have agreed to look at it. Neither Barron nor school officials would pinpoint the site.

Barron said residents have several objections to the Graves Avenue site, including its proximity to other schools.

He said elementary school students walking to half a dozen schools within a few blocks of the site could be endangered by traffic generated by the high school. An elementary school is under construction across from the site and a junior high school is just a block away.

Some parents said they fear that high school students would intimidate the younger children. In addition, Barron said, many neighborhood residents are elderly and do not want to move. And, he said, the preferred site is in the southwest corner of Rosemead and the community would be better served by a more centrally located high school.

Barron said evicting people for a school is unsettling in any case, but "disrupting lives for an inappropriate location cannot be justified."

But Peppin said the district cannot find any site that avoids the displacement of homes and businesses. There are no 40-acre parcels of vacant land available, he said, and there is so much building activity under way that it is impossible to find a site free of new construction.

John E. Perko, associate superintendent for administration, said a final decision on the site is at least eight months away and perhaps more. The next step, he said, is for the school district to hire a consultant to prepare an environmental impact statement for the preferred site and the leading alternatives.

The consultant will need four to six months to do the work, Perko said, and then the report must be circulated for six months to give everyone time to make comments before any property is purchased.

The other sites designated for consideration are north of Garvey Avenue at Del Mar Avenue on property that includes the Los Angeles Dealer Auto Auction, a major wholesaling center for used cars, and south of Garvey Avenue between Muscatel Avenue and the Rio Hondo flood control channel on land occupied by a mixture of homes, stores and factories. All the sites are in Rosemead, where some of the Alhambra School District's greatest enrollment growth is occurring.

The Alhambra School District operates Alhambra, Mark Keppel and San Gabriel high schools and Century continuation school, serving Alhambra, San Gabriel, most of Monterey Park and part of Rosemead. Its high school students come from the San Gabriel and Garvey elementary districts as well as from Alhambra elementary schools.

High school enrollment has risen 20% in the past five years. Peppin said Alhambra, Mark Keppel and San Gabriel are all overcrowded. Enrollment figures this year are 3,469 at Alhambra, 3,250 at San Gabriel and 2,655 at Mark Keppel. Peppin said the Alhambra campus is so crowded that the district is renting classroom space from a church across the street, and all schools are using portable classrooms and trailers.

"The first thing that impressed me when I came here is that it's so crowded that students cannot move from one point on the campus to another without rubbing shoulders," said Rudy Chavez, who has just completed his second year as Mark Keppel principal.

District officials said part of the enrollment increase reflects younger, larger families moving into the area, and in some cases two or more families sharing a home. In addition, houses that occupied large lots are being replaced by condominiums.

Perko said the state Allocation Board, which administers state school building funds, has tentatively agreed to provide $44.6 million to buy the site and build the high school.

Once the site has been selected, Perko said, the district must obtain at least two appraisals on each piece of property, acquire the land through negotiation or condemnation and offer relocation assistance to both homeowners and renters.

Perko said the whole process--selecting the site, buying and clearing the land and building the school--will take four or five years.

But the district has already hired an architect, Carmichael & Kemp of Los Angeles, to work on plans.

The new high school, as yet unnamed, will be the first in the district since San Gabriel High School opened more than 20 years ago.

Perko said the new school will require a complete redrawing of high school attendance areas. Most of the students who live near the sites under consideration for the new school now attend San Gabriel and Mark Keppel.

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