Getting Private Help for Public Schools : Renovation: Burbank school officials solicit help from the community to make much-needed repairs to aging campuses.


When Jim Gibson was a student at Burbank High School in the early 1970s, the school was in dire need of new plumbing, heating and electrical systems and a fresh coat of paint.

Last week Gibson, who is now principal of the school, said it has yet to undergo the repairs it needed when he was a student. And district officials, who now estimate that the work would cost nearly $14 million, say repairs could still be years away.

Burbank High is not alone. The district's other 16 schools also have fallen into disrepair over the years because of a shortage of funds. Painting and fixing the 11 elementary, three junior high and three high schools is expected to cost about $72 million, according to a report prepared by the district superintendent's office.

"Basically, we're just doing the job of keeping it clean, trying to make it useful," Gibson said of his alma mater at 3rd Street and Burbank Boulevard. "It's just old."

To be sure, the newest structure on campus is the science building, which Gibson said was "state-of-the-art" when it was built in 1945. The library, constructed in 1922, is the oldest building on campus. It has walls two to three feet thick, making it impossible for them to be rewired or for new plumbing to be installed, Gibson said. Several other buildings on campus pose the same problem.

To help fund some repairs, district officials last spring kicked off the Burbank Partnership Program, designed to encourage local businesses and community groups to participate in school improvement projects.

Several schools have received cash or equipment donations--Burbank High recently received more than $15,000 worth of computers for its journalism department from Hewlett-Packard. But one of the district's campuses has been seeking help for more basic needs.

Gail Copeland, principal of Joaquin Miller Elementary School, said teachers at the school recently succeeded in persuading members of the Magnolia Park Optimist Club to help paint the exterior of their campus buildings.

"This is the first time we've gone out to the community and said, 'We want your help,' " Copeland said, pleased with the response the school has gotten so far.

Much of the money and supplies to paint the school came from local paint, hardware and grocery stores. And more importantly, Copeland said, about 20 club members have volunteered to paint the school.

"Work started on Jan. 20 and will continue on the weekends until it's done," she said, adding that no one can remember when the exterior of the school was last painted. "I'm really excited."

Once the exterior is finished, the school hopes to paint the interior, which, according to school records, hasn't been painted in 27 years.

But other problems persist. Plumbing at the school is hampered by inadequate water pressure and is constantly breaking down, Copeland said. Floors in the building also need to be replaced.

"It's in very bad shape as is every school in Burbank," she said. "It is in need of maintenance and upkeep. Unfortunately, there hasn't been the money to do it. So we've had to seek out other ways to get it done."

Copeland said she has been contacted by administrators from other schools that are interested in starting similar programs.

District Supt. Arthur Pierce said although he welcomes such community support, it is not the long-term solution to the district's problems. Pierce said that the Burbank Board of Education is reviewing several studies, commissioned by the Burbank City Council, that outline long-range strategies to fund school repairs.

Some of the options include selling bonds, and selling or leasing school property.

For example, one report targets eight district properties--six schools, the district's service center and the district's headquarters--that could be sold or leased in order to raise money for repairs or educational programs.

Key properties include Burbank High School, located on 16.5 acres with a land value of $50 million; and the district offices, on 5.4 acres with a value of $10 million.

Last week, the board voted to begin seeking proposals from developers to determine whether selling or leasing properties would be desirable.

"I believe leasing some property sites would probably produce the most revenue generated for repairs in the long haul," board member Audrey Hanson said. "The time has come to make the decision to find ways of addressing our facility needs. I can hardly even look at one of those school buildings without cringing."

Hanson said that limited funding from the state has forced the district to seek more creative ways to raise money for its schools.

"We do not have money dropping out of the sky," Hanson said. "It is up to this community and this board to lay the foundation for future revenues."

Meanwhile, district officials and Gibson agree that Burbank High School should be replaced. The district advised the Burbank City Council in July that a new school is needed because of increased traffic, enrollment, noise and security problems that will be generated by a massive retail and office complex now under construction directly across the street from the school.

In addition to plumbing and electrical problems, officials said, the school is not equipped with energy-efficient windows, air-conditioning or an intercom system. The 1,400-student campus also has insufficient space for parking and its cafeteria.

"There are some things that can't be fixed with paint," Gibson said

Adding to the troubles, the school is now gearing up to accommodate 500 more students in the fall when the district converts to a middle-school program that will place sixth-graders at the secondary schools and ninth-graders at high schools.

The administrative offices at Burbank High are being expanded to house more personnel, and classrooms are being divided up to accommodate incoming students. Similar changes are under way at John Burroughs High School.

Modifications at the two schools are costing the district more than $2 million, most of which is coming from developer fees. Asked if it was a waste of money to make these changes when the school could be torn down, Gibson said even if the district decided to build a new school it would be years before it was ready.

"Just the building process would take four years," Gibson said. "And then there's the political process. Next year, we're going to have 500 more students no matter what." Gibson pointed out that all the cabinets and ceiling lights being installed in the new administrative offices are designed to be easily removed.

District officials estimated the cost of remodeling Burbank High at $45 million, while a new facility would cost $51 million.

Although the school has no major structural problems, Gibson and members of the Board of Education said it would be better to build a new one rather than remodel.

"It's like putting a new engine in an old car," Gibson said. "You have a new engine, but pretty soon all the other parts start to break. It's just time for a change."

Despite his ties to the school, Gibson said he feels little sentiment about preserving the old building.

"I have an affinity to the school," Gibson said, "not to the structure."

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