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Only One on Island : Asbestos Levels Close Catalina School Gym

Times Staff Writer

The only school gymnasium on Santa Catalina Island contains so much asbestos it is being torn down, saddening many Avalon residents who fondly recall the basketball games, dances and school assemblies that were held there.

It was after six months of asbestos removal efforts that state health inspectors and Long Beach Unified School District officials determined that the gym was so laden with asbestos that it had to be razed.

Enshrouded in plastic to prevent asbestos from escaping from its walls, ceilings and floors, the free-standing corrugated-steel building started coming down at the hands of a demolition crew last week.

“In our small community, there are an awful lot of residents who had memorable moments in that gym,” said Jon Meyer, principal of the four schools in Avalon. “The attitude is one of sad resignation.”

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‘Kind of a Landmark’

The building, constructed in the early 1950s and donated to Avalon schools by the Wrigley family, has been “kind of a landmark in Avalon for a number of years,” Meyer said.

The Wrigley family, made famous by its chewing gum products, at one time owned a controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Co., which decades ago helped develop Avalon as a resort community.

Since the gym was closed last fall, home basketball games have been played in the ballroom of the city’s ornate Casino Ballroom and Theater, the island’s round, Mediterranean style landmark. Assemblies have been held in shifts in the school’s 185-seat auditorium or outside on the baseball field. Graduation ceremonies, usually held in the gym, will be held in the ballroom’s auditorium until a new gym is built.

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But prospects for a new gym are uncertain, district officials said.

The school district is facing a budget deficit and must turn to the state Board of Education for money to build a new gym, district spokesman Richard Van Der Laan said. The decision to tear down the gym was based on the recommendations of a private asbestos abatement company and an independent laboratory, officials said.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” said Ron Tessada, maintenance director for the school district.

Bringing the gym’s airborne asbestos level to the federally accepted standards of one fiber per cubic centimeter or less was “technically impossible,” Tessada said.

The cancer-causing fireproofing material was “even under the building,” he said. “We would have had to cut holes in the hardwood floor and vacuum it out.”

Meanwhile, the absence of a gym has taken a toll on student life, parents, teachers and students said.

Junior Tanya Vojkovich, 16, said there has been only one school dance this year, instead of the usual five or six. “It’s a bummer, kids are really depressed,” she said.

And the Casino ballroom will not be available for basketball games next year because of scheduled renovations for the facility’s 60th anniversary, Casino spokesman Ron Doutt said.

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The lack of a gym has left some student-athletes with “not very much to do anymore,” said Terry Stonier, a 16-year-old junior.

Vojkovich and Stonier, both members of the girls’ basketball team, said they may quit the team if there is no place to play home games. Otherwise, they would have to make as many as 10 trips to the mainland next season.

Avalon teams must take a boat and a bus to get to such games, and stay overnight in a hotel. Road trips are tiring, students said, and expensive because they must pay for their own meals.


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