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Home Sweet Schoolyard

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One good thing about living in a mobile home on the grounds of a school is the giant frontyard. Another good thing--if you happen to be a teacher--is that you don’t have to drive to work.

A downside is when kids playing sports on the weekend ask to use your bathroom because the school facilities are closed. Or when you have to interrupt teens having a late-night make-out session on the sports field.

Although most people who live in mobile homes rent spaces at mobile home parks, a few opt for larger pastures. In exchange for working as school security guards, they live rent-free on campus.

In Cypress, all 10 elementary schools in the district have mobile home tenants, according to Jeannette Lohrman, principal of Arnold Elementary. “It really deters people from coming onto campus” and scrawling graffiti on walls or vandalizing classrooms, she says.

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George Turf and his wife, Ruth, have been living at Arnold since 1983. Their granddaughter attended the school then, and she showed them a flier seeking people to live on school grounds in a mobile home. School officials weren’t sure if the program would work out and said if it didn’t, the Turfs would have to pay to move their home off-campus at their own expense.

“I flipped a coin and said yes,” Turf says. “I’m one of the lucky ones. I can sit on my porch and look at a 10-acre field, and I’ve got it all to myself.”

Schoolyard noise is no problem, Turf says. “The windows are closed, and you don’t hear the kids. They’re really well-behaved.”

Turf says he guards against older kids coming onto the Arnold campus. Once, some high schoolers drove through the gate, over the grass and parked on the asphalt to play basketball. Turf says he told them, “You’re big, husky guys. You can’t walk 100 yards from the parking lot?” They drove off immediately.

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Each night, Turf patrols the campus, on the lookout for kids throwing rocks or painting graffiti. “You don’t go out and yell and scream. You try to talk to them. If you get them mad, they’ll want to get revenge.” Turf says he’s “like Big Brother watching. If they see me, they’ll say, ‘I’m not going to fool around here.’ ”

When teams play sports during the weekend and managers neglect to bring a portable lavatory, kids invariably will knock on Turf’s door seeking relief. “We tell them this is not a public restroom; this is a private home,” he says. “If I let you in, what’s to stop another 100 people from wanting to come in?”

Mobile home tenants also provide campus security in Anaheim and Brea. Schools in Westminster, Santa Ana and Huntington Beach once had security guards living in mobile homes, but those programs were canceled.

Bob Ours, administrator of facilities and planning at the Orange County Department of Education, says, “A lot of districts tried it in the ‘70s to curb vandalism, and most districts that I know of have stopped. I think they got worried about liability, if something happened to people while doing their rounds.”

In lieu of resident security guards, Ours says now “most districts have silent alarm systems wired for sound and motion detection” connected to police stations.

When Brea Olinda High School was rebuilt in 1989, school officials planned to have a security guard living on campus because “the remote nature of the school would make it a target for vandals,” says Gary Goff, assistant superintendent of business for the Brea Olinda Unified School District. The school installed a sewer line specifically for the guard’s mobile home, Goff says.

A custodian lived there at first, but when he moved, Rick Jones, a teacher at Brea Olinda, bought the home and took his place. Jones lives with his brother in the three-bedroom unit. He teaches world history to sophomores during the day and patrols the campus at night in exchange for free rent and utilities.

“I like the area. It’s nice and private,” says Jones, who adds: “I get a lot of disturbances from adults. I don’t get too much from students. Sometimes at night, lovers come. People think our campus is the Motel 6.

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“One of the things that makes it alluring to lovers is we stand high atop the city and have an awesome view,” says Jones, who has taught at Brea Olinda for 24 years.

One night Jones was walking around the track when he saw a couple under a blanket on the pole vault landing cushion. “What are you doing?” he asked.

The boy poked his head out and said, “Kissing.”

“You’ll have to do your kissing someplace else. The campus is closed,” Jones said.

Since he’s been patrolling the campus, Jones says, graffiti have decreased, but vandalism hasn’t entirely died out.

“I happened to look out my window and saw some kids egging our mascot, the Wildcat.” Jones called the police, who were nearby and reached the campus in a minute. They caught three kids from another high school “red-handed with the eggs. It cost them $75 each to clean the Wildcat,” Jones says.

What’s it like for Jones to live on the campus where he teaches? “There is a little stigma about that, but most kids don’t think anything of it,” he says. On the plus side, he doesn’t have to find a parking place when he gets to work.

Then again, it’s harder to fake an illness to skip a day. “I have a pretty good record of not calling in sick,” Jones says. “I have to watch it. I am at the mercy of the administrators,” he says, chuckling. “All they have to do is walk over and see if I’m here.”

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