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Back to School : After Repairs, Simi High Has a Homecoming

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The early start time couldn’t dampen sophomore Rosie Paynter’s enthusiasm Wednesday as she returned to newly reopened Simi Valley High School after attending afternoon sessions at rival Royal High for several weeks.

Getting up in the mornings will take getting used to again, said Rosie, who has been reporting to school four hours later than usual because the joined schools have been on split morning and afternoon schedules.

But, she said, it was good to be back on familiar turf for the first time since the Jan. 17 temblor forced Simi High’s closure for nearly two months.

“It’s our home,” said Rosie, 15. “It’s where we belong.”

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Students were welcomed back for Wednesday’s half-day session with painted paper signs with such enthusiastic slogans as “Whoopee!Simi is so cool.” Teachers unpacked the white boxes that served as traveling desks since the cross-town rivals began sharing the Royal High campus.

“I think I’m going to keep the box for old time’s sake,” English teacher Mary Poppen said as she emptied her container of everything from graded papers to lesson plans, pencils, facial tissues and paper clips.

Maddie Hellman, a campus supervisor and president of the Simi High Parent-Teacher-Student Assn., said the first day back was like the first day of school--for the third time this year.

“We had our first day at the beginning of the year, then when we went to Royal and here again today,” Hellman said.

But Principal Kathryn Scroggin said the day had more meaning than a normal first day of school.

“It’s coming home and having family together again,” she said. “It’s like a reunion.”

English teacher Virginia Stout agreed that the feelings were stronger than when returning from summer vacation because everyone was locked out during repairs to the school.

“It’s like you weren’t allowed in, and now you are allowed in and it’s a privilege to come back,” Stout said.

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The gymnasium and multipurpose room remained off-limits because of structural damage from the 6.8-magnitude quake. No estimates have been completed, but officials believe that the cost to repair the two buildings could be $1.5 million.

Simi High sustained about $3 million in damage overall, said Ralph Wilson, assistant superintendent for the Simi Valley Unified School District.

Fallen plaster from walkway overhangs has been removed in several areas, but has yet to be replaced. That kind of touch-up work will be done over the next several months, Wilson said.

In the classrooms, most walls were stripped of posters and mementos and covered with a fresh coat of paint. Many have new ceiling tiles and light fixtures.

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“If you could have seen this place two weeks ago, it looked like a war zone,” Wilson said proudly after the first hour of school went off without a hitch.

Asbestos discovered in fallen ceiling tiles delayed the school’s opening in January while state certified contractors were brought in to remove it.

Enough evidence of the quake remained behind Wednesday--including the unfinished overhangs and huge metal dumpsters set out to collect cleanup debris--to make senior Larry Moore uneasy.

“It’s kind of hard coming to this,” Larry said. “It reminds you of everything that happened.”

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To ease the transition, today will again be a half day, running from 8 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. Students throughout the district have Friday off for a staff training day.

“It’s been a challenge,” science teacher Wally Boggess said. “Next year by this time, we’ll probably be looking back on it and saying, ‘That was quite an experience.’ ”

English teacher H. R. Mazzare said that feeling could last a long time.

“I’ve taught at Simi High for 25 years,” Mazzare said. “I’ve seen a lot of things come and go, but this year has been one heck of an experience.”

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