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Low Bid Aids Push for School Renovation : La Verne: School board approval is still needed for the La Verne Heights Elementary project. Only $1.1 million is available.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thanks to a low construction bid, most of the renovation plan for a historic but antiquated elementary school can be paid for, Bonita Unified School District officials announced last week.

If the school board approves the bid by ACS of La Habra, La Verne Heights Elementary, completed in 1937, will get new carpeting, cabinets, air conditioning, roofing, lighting and water lines. Some of these were at risk had the $753,000 bid come in much higher, as many parents had expected.

Still to be bid on is installation of new bathrooms and more utility lines and leveling the uneven playground. The board will decide next week how much the district can afford. Only $1.1 million is available; a full modernization would cost “well over $3 million,” conceded board member Robert Green.

Parents say they are concerned that their school, the oldest in the La Verne-San Dimas area, will remain unfit. Water testing paid for by parents showed unhealthy levels of lead contamination in one of three water fountains tested, said Lally Kelly, one of about 270 parents at Wednesday’s board meeting. The meeting was held in the auditorium of the district’s newest school, as yet unnamed, in north La Verne.

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Other parents said the district has not fully addressed earthquake safety, asbestos removal and the work needed to soundproof La Verne Heights school during freeway construction. The school is next to the planned extension of the Foothill Freeway.

Assistant Supt. Karen Willett, who fielded questions for three hours, pledged, “It will not be a Band-Aid. You will like that site.” The unnamed new school, built to serve the growing foothill area, has temporarily housed La Verne Heights students since December, when their school was closed for renovation.

That work has yet to begin because the board canceled the first phase, a new cafeteria, for lack of money. The old cafeteria, deemed seismically unsafe, had been demolished in 1988 and replaced by a portable building.

The administration blames the money pinch on the slowdown in home building, which resulted in the district collecting less in developer fees. Some parents have accused the district of poor planning.

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The board’s options include the scaled-back renovation; closing La Verne Heights permanently and redistricting, or tearing down all or part of the school and replacing it with portable buildings.

Nearly half the school’s classrooms are portables already, and the permanent ones are smaller than state standards. The undersized cafeteria and classroom layout means that students often are eating lunch or having recess near portable classrooms where teachers are giving lessons.

“I didn’t realize how stressful it was to teach at that site till I got away from there,” said Karen Huigens, who transferred to another district school.


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