For first-grade teacher Cindy Reichenthaler, Oak View Elementary School's reopening means being able to teach full throttle again. For the other teachers, students and parents, it means less stress.
The school and two others in the Ocean View School District were temporarily closed in 2014 because of asbestos problems, and teachers and students were relocated, some to schools in other districts, as the buildings were being worked on.
Oak View, which reopened earlier this year, held a grand opening Wednesday, complete with a ceremonial ribbon cutting and invitation to the community to tour the campus.
Reichenthaler, who taught her students at Pleasant View School in Huntington Beach while Oak View was closed, said she was relieved.
"This means I can teach," said Reichenthaler, who has worked at Oak View for 22 years and was excited to again be able to use laptops, which students didn't have access to at Pleasant View.
"The teachers didn't have any of our belongings with us. I didn't have a whiteboard. Now that we're back, we have our teaching supplies and we're so thrilled. We feel like we can finally move forward with our students. Everything that we need is at our fingertips now."
In October 2014, Oak View, along with Hope View and Lake View elementary schools — two other Huntington Beach campuses in the Ocean View district — were closed after asbestos was found during a modernization project that started that July at 11 district schools. Asbestos is a mineral fiber that if inhaled can damage the lungs.
Gina Clayton-Tarvin, president of the district's board of trustees, said school staff discovered asbestos in the ceiling of Oak View's main building.
During the closure last school year, Oak View's 700 students were bused to Village View Elementary, Oak View Preschool and Ocean View Preparatory Preschool — all in the Ocean View district — and to Walter Knott Elementary School in Buena Park.
In January 2015, Oak View reopened to second- through fifth-graders, who attended classes in 15 existing portable buildings. Ten more portables were added this school year to accommodate the rest of the students.
In September, kindergartners and first-graders also returned to campus. Several weeks ago, the main building reopened.
The project cost about $6 million as workers gutted the front building and redid the floors and lighting, Clayton-Tarvin said.
They also installed a $1.3-million heating and air filtration system to counter the smells from the nearby Rainbow Environmental Services facility, which the district is currently fighting in court.
As part of the renovation, rooms were added to Oak View for the parent-teacher organization and speech therapist, who didn't have full-time offices to work out of before the closure.
Hope View reopened in September, and the district is expecting to reopen Lake View this fall, Clayton-Tarvin said.
"It's been a really long journey," Clayton-Tarvin said. "Our staff, students and parents have kind of endured a lot of hardship but have stuck with us as a very loyal community. They didn't complain. They literally said they were going to do what was best for the children, and they know the school district does their best for them."
Hortencia Maldonado, the secretary for the local parent-teacher organization, said she was excited to see the school reopened.
"We've been waiting for this for a long time, and the kids are so happy to be back," she said. "I hope it stays like this and there are no more problems for our school. We're going to be happy to be here."
Duane Dishno, a member of the Huntington Beach Union High School District board, echoed Maldonado's sentiment.
"I know these kids were well taken care of while they were in Buena Park, but there's no place like home," he said. "I'm sure the staff here and kids and families are feeling that today."
Brittany Woolsey, email@example.com