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School to Be Closed During Probe of Mystery Seepage

Times Staff Writer

In an unusual move, the Los Angeles Unified School District decided Wednesday to temporarily close a Cudahy elementary school, allowing for an investigation into the source of a mysterious, oily substance that has seeped up through the school’s asphalt playground.

The more than 1,000 pupils of Park Avenue School, a year-round school, will be moved out next week, said Diana Munatones, district spokeswoman. The decision was made by Supt. Leonard Britton.

“We do not want to disrupt the education of the students while digging and drilling is going on. We also want to make sure they are safe,” Munatones said.

Britton acted only one day after Board of Education member Leticia Quezada, who represents Southeast Los Angeles County, including Cudahy, recommended the school closure during a meeting of an environmental task force she created to investigate the seepage.

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Because this is not a permanent closure, a vote of the seven-member board was not required, board President Jackie Goldberg said.

“Schools are not closed often (for hazardous situations), but it does happen,” Goldberg said. “I know there is a serious problem there (at the school). I undoubtedly support the closure.”

Angelo Bellomo, an independent consultant hired to investigate the seepage at Park Avenue, has reported that preliminary investigation indicates the substance is coming from beneath the asphalt surface.

Bellomo, director of McLaren Environmental Engineering in Burbank, describes the oily substance as “tarry-like” and “highly acidic, like battery acid.”

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Bellomo and other health and environmental agency officials have said the only danger to students would occur if they came into prolonged contact with the substance.

But Quezada said she favored closing the school while a detailed investigation of the site is made.

A portion of the school is built on a landfill and the tarlike substance is believed to be from refuse and petroleum products that were dumped there.

Bellomo said it could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to assess the extent of the problem. It was not known how much time will be needed to correct it.

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Students to Be Bused

Meanwhile, the students will be bused July 26 to two schools closed for the summer.

Nearly 300 pupils in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and special education classes will be taken to Clara Street School about two blocks away. The remaining students in first through sixth grade will be taken to Russell Elementary School, about seven miles away.


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