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State Approves Funds to Rebuild Avalon School Gym

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After nearly two years of battling the bureaucracy, officials from Long Beach Unified School District and the city of Avalon won state approval this week that will allow them to rebuild Avalon’s only gymnasium.

The city’s old school gym was shut down in the fall of 1988 and was eventually razed because of asbestos contamination.

A state board Wednesday qualified a new gym for emergency funding out of an $80-million bond issue approved by voters in the June primary.

Construction of the gym, expected to cost $2.5 million, is scheduled to begin in late summer. The facility is to be ready for use for the 1991-92 school year, said Ron Bennett, assistant business manager for the Long Beach district, which includes the Avalon schools.

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Without a gym, school basketball team players last season had to practice outside, occasionally in the rain, and had to travel each weekend to the mainland for games.

“Lots of us got sick during the season. I hope they can get (the new gym) up before I graduate,” said Angel Campbell, a high school sophomore who plays guard for the girls varsity basketball team.

The new gym will primarily serve students of Avalon Senior High School and Middle School, although younger children will also use it, said Jon Meyer, principal of all the Avalon schools.

Replacing the gym has been a burning issue in this town of 2,700, where the facility served as a community gathering place. “In a city this small, everybody comes to a home basketball game,” Meyer said. “It’s a centerpiece for the community.”

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The old gym also was host to a variety of social and cultural events, such as square dances, musical productions and local club meetings.

More than a quarter of the city’s population recently signed a petition asking that a gym be built, said City Councilwoman Barbara Doutt. She joined other city leaders in delivering the petition to key legislators and administrators in Sacramento this week.

The project to build the gym has been plagued by delays since the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordered the old facility shut in 1988. At first, the state agreed to fund a gym that would have been smaller than the original.

The plans approved this week, however, call for a 9,000-square-foot building, slightly larger than the old one, Meyer said. The structure is to be built on part of what is now a playground, not far from the old site, Meyer said. An outdoor basketball court exists on the grounds of the former gym.

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After the state approved the larger size, the project ran into more trouble this spring after the state received more school construction funding requests than it expected. The gym request initially was ranked low on the state’s priority list.

Hoping to influence state officials, Avalon civic leaders and Long Beach school district officials traveled to Sacramento this week on behalf of the project.

After the lobbying effort, the State Allocation Board voted to place the Avalon gym project on an emergency funding priority listing, despite a staff recommendation against the move, said Bruce Hancock, field service manager for the Office of Local Assistance, General Services.

Although it is unusual for city officials to get involved with the internal business of a school district, the gym’s prominence in town life prompted them to take an active role, Doutt said.

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At one point, the city even offered to put up money for the gym, but the district declined the offer.

The state decided to grant the project emergency funding because of Avalon’s unique situation, said state Sen. Leroy Greene (D-Carmichael), who sits on the allocation board.

With another district, the state might have opted to bus students to a nearby gym for practice and games, officials said. Avalon’s isolation was the factor that swayed the board’s decision, Greene said.


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