Alumni say goodbye to Wardlow School

As soon as a group of 10 Wardlow School alumni stepped foot inside its stripped-down front office, images from childhood popped into their heads.

Alumni from the former school toured the Huntington Beach campus one last time before Tri Pointe Homes levels the site to begin construction on new housing.

After discovering that Wardlow was about to be demolished, Karyn Sontag and other former students contacted Tri Pointe to see if they could see the school before it was torn down.

"I can totally relate to what they're going through, in terms of being sentimental about some place they spent six or seven years at," said Tom Grable, vice president of Tri Pointe, who agreed to let the group see the school.

A green light has been given for the construction of 49 two-story homes on the site's 8.4 acres, Grable said. Demolition is slated to begin in early May.

Along with the nostalgic tour, Grable will allow the Huntington Beach Fire Department to use the site as a training area before Tri Pointe bulldozes the buildings.

"We're going to be doing some live training the in the auditorium," fire engineer Randy Babbitt said. "We don't burn the building down. We do small training fires inside of the structure. This building provides us with a unique layout and tests our tactics and our strategies."

From the 1960s to 1982, Wardlow served the half-square-mile community bordered by Yorktown and Adams avenues and Magnolia and Bushard streets.

Sontag was in one of the first graduating classes of the school, which served students in kindergarten through eighth-grade. She said all the memories were flooding back as she walked through the classrooms.

"You started when you were 5 and left when you were 13," she said. "That's your childhood. We spent our childhood here."

While the first graduating class reminisced about their time in the 1970s, George Malek and Stephanie Rhines hearkened back to when they were students in the 1980s.

Malek and Rhines were in the sixth grade when Wardlow shut its doors in 1982 and were shocked after transferring to Talbert Middle School.

"The atmosphere was very loose here," Malek said. "It was a culture shock when we went to Talbert. It was like a Nazi concentration camp. We would be standing around and they would ask for ID cards. Really? Get over yourself."

Rhines said Wardlow had a family vibe to it and was more laid back than Talbert.

"They took us to McDonald's for sundaes. That's how Wardlow was," she said. "I'm sure there were no permission slips. We just got in the car with the principal and had a sundae with him."

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