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Private School’s Classes Delayed by Safety Violations

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When school was supposed to open this year at Fairmont Private School, most of the student body didn’t show up--because their classrooms had been ordered closed by the city.

Just one day before classes were to have started, a city inspector found that the rooms had unsafe windows, an incomplete fire wall and no fire alarms. City officials also raised questions about fumes from a nearby beauty salon and about possible asbestos in the rooms.

In addition, the school lacked required permits for its six elementary classrooms. Only the preschool and kindergarten, housed in a different building on campus, had none of those problems and opened on schedule.

A temporary solution arrived Wednesday afternoon, when the Vineyard Christian School in Anaheim leased seven of its classrooms to Fairmont. Movers almost immediately began moving desks, tables, chairs and school supplies, and Fairmont Executive Director David Jackson said he hopes to have classes running by next week.

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The school had petitioned the city to issue a temporary occupancy permit that would allow students to return to class as soon as the violations were corrected. But on Tuesday, the City Council refused, saying the school would have to go through the normal permit process, which takes at least four weeks.

“It concerns me when I listen to the litany of extensive violations,” Councilman Henry Wedaa said. “I have never heard a list this long in all my years on the council.”

So while thousands of schoolchildren began the new school year at public schools this week, about 125 students enrolled at the small private school, where tuition is about $5,300 per year, have been left wondering when their turn would come.

Some of the students have been bused to the Anaheim campus, but it can accommodate only 75. The remaining 50 students have been waiting at home for the school to find them a classroom.

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“My son is anxiously waiting to start first grade,” said Kathy Urbanovitch. “My children have been there for several years and there have been no safety problems so far.”

Pam Shellhorn, parent of first-and fifth-grade students, agreed that the school is a safe place.

“Fairmont is very safety-conscious,” Shellhorn said. “Students are always signed in and out, and if (school personnel) don’t recognize (the person signing out a student), they ask for identification. My own husband has been asked for ID.”

While Shellhorn was concerned that some classes did not have a fire alarm, she said the city made the situation seem more dire than it was.

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The school’s Jackson said most of the concerns mentioned by the city have been rectified or will be within a few days. He said the school is awaiting the state fire marshal’s approval of plans for a fire alarm, and has received estimates on some other repairs.

The school’s problems started during a routine inspection, the final step in adding two more classrooms to the campus, located in a retail center on Valley View Street.

But plans for the classrooms, which were converted from empty retail space, indicated that the rooms were going to be used for office space, which has different and less stringent safety and fire requirements than classrooms.

After discovering the actual use of the two new classrooms and four adjoining classrooms, the city issued a notice of violation against the school. The notice prohibits the school from operating in the six classrooms until the necessary permits are obtained.

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After leasing classrooms at the Vineyard, Jackson said he was undecided about pursuing the permits for the Yorba Linda campus. School officials had been considering moving as soon as next year.

“We found a location in Brea we like much greater. I get the feeling the city of Yorba Linda doesn’t like us.”


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