Construction encroaches on campus space
Buildings, oil well, metro and perimeter fence all set to commence in coming month
A Look Ahead
With the district concurrently working to improve its quality of education and upgrade its facilities, decisions made in the near future will likely define the next generation of the school district. Don Blake, the district’s newly hired Director of Facilities, describes it as “a moment in history that’s not going to come around again.”
“This is pretty much the shot to rebuild the district,” Blake said. “The way I look at it is this is the most exciting thing I’ve seen in years. It’s an incredible opportunity; it’s not just building buildings, it’s affecting a huge change, and I’m interested in that because it can be done.”
Although recent months have been consumed by the reconfiguration debate--a debate centered around how to improve the quality of the TK-12 experience--the upcoming months will be hectic from a facilities standpoint. With four different projects on or around the high school slated to begin in the month of March, the high school’s lengthy hiatus from construction will come to an abrupt end. From a facilities standpoint, it may be the first sign of momentum in almost two years, a reality that is not lost on Principal Mark Mead.
“Let’s face it, construction-wise, there hasn’t been anything to celebrate in a long time,” Mead said.
After nearly two years of stalled plans, construction is ready to commence this month in the high school’s two main buildings, B1 and B2. The current schedule for construction estimates 30 months to complete these two buildings, after which the construction team will try to move as many classes out of the village as space allows.
According to Blake, the two-year delay can be attributed to miscalculations. The previous facilities team hoped to perform the preconstruction work with no required prior approval or inspection, such as demolition and abatement, while the drawings were in submission with the Division of State Architects (DSA), the state agency responsible for approving public construction projects.
“[The buildings] are boarded up and sitting there, not because there was a mistake or someone was incompetent; it was the decision that ‘DSA is going to take a certain amount of time, so let’s go ahead and start [the preconstruction] work.’ So, kids were moved out into the portables,” Blake said. “There was a gap of almost two years that was not anticipated.”
Now that the plans have been approved by and released from DSA, the district has to determine the logistics of the modernization project. However, plans for the preconstruction setup have been thoroughly discussed.
“Hopefully, I don’t think construction will have an impact on school operations, in that all of the construction deliveries will be done on Moreno Drive, and we have an exact pathway when coming off and circulating and then going back out. So all of that activity will be taken to where that lawn area is now and space. Deliveries, construction parking and construction trailers will all be fenced off in that area,” Blake said.
However, Bregy is still concerned about the effect that the flow of trucks laden with materials and equipment will have on traffic on Moreno Drive.
“My biggest worry is traffic because people are driving and dropping off people, so we’re going to have to really look into what the policies and practices are for this street,” Bregy said.
At the request of Bregy and Mead, the construction team will leave the front lawn space available for students.
“Myself and Dr. Bregy have vigorously advocated to hold on to that small patch of green,” Mead said. “It’s not super useful these days, but it’s still green.”
As there will be an active construction site on the other side of the fence, administrators from the district office will be closely monitoring the site. It will pose other problems, including noise, during the school day.
“As far as the noise level, you’re going to hear it,” Bregy said. “But to me, you’re hearing progress.”
In light of recent campus safety concerns, the need for a fence enclosing the high school has been accepted by more parties in the district. With the tragedies involving school shootings across the country since the beginning of the year, the concerns of a non-credible threat for a possible school shooting at Beverly on Feb. 23, and the recent arrest for possession of a firearm on school grounds, Mead believes the community is more willing to see action.
“I think the community is ready [for a fence] now; I don’t think they were a month ago. I think the students are ready; I don’t think they were a month ago,” Mead said. “So, with this tragic and really heartbreaking experience for our kids and the anxiety, I do think something very positive is going to be resolved.”
However, the plan to build a fence has been in the works for months, and administration plans on putting the fence up sometime in March.
“Moving towards a closed campus is the most practical and effective measure we can take to better protect our students. Because our campus has so many points of access, it’s impossible for our security staff to adequately secure each point of entry,” student board member Jonathan Artal said. “A fence would limit points of entry to just a couple areas, allowing us to monitor every person who comes in and out of campus and more efficiently allocate our staff.”
Though he believes the fence to be a necessity, Mead acknowledges that it may be an inconvenience for students, particularly for those who currently walk on Moreno Drive to get to the athletic facilities.
“The way I see it, it’s still a reasonable time without putting ridiculous pressure on a student to get from any class on campus to P.E. on time,” Mead said. “Is it an inconvenience? I think it’s safe to say it is. Is it an inconvenience that keeps our students safe and our campus safe? Yes, it is.”
After Venoco filed for bankruptcy in April 2017, the process of cleaning up the oil well area off Olympic Boulevard falls on the district. The city has agreed to step in and joint work is scheduled to begin on March 19.
“Phase One is to cap the wells, which means they pull out pipes. The wells are about 8,000 feet down. They put concrete in to plug it, stop, cure it, put some more [concrete] in. It’s a rather lengthy process until they come all the way to the top. And there are 19 wells that they’ll be doing, one well at a time,” Blake said.
The staging area for the deconstruction of the oil wells, which involves work crews and a crane, will cut into the softball field, requiring its closure for 270 days.
“We’ve worked with Coach Paysinger to try to make sure that a couple of tournaments that he really wanted scheduled are going to get in right under the timeline,” Mead said. “We think we’ve been able to pivot and support our softball girls.”
The softball team will be practicing on the football field or at Roxbury Park; remaining home games will take place at Roxbury as well.
“It’s just an adjustment we have to make,” softball coach Vonzie Paysinger said. “It’s in the best interest of the school and we get it so we’ll go from there.”
Phase Two, according to Blake, will address removing the derrick, the tall structure decorated in a floral pattern, and surrounding walls from the area. The site will then be transformed into a new baseball field.
“Phase Two will be when they are completed with capping the wells to take the derrick down and remove all of the concrete and retaining walls,” Blake said. “So, we’ll capture all that real estate back.”
The development that worries Bregy the most is the one he cannot control: the continuing prospect of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (Metro) tunnel under the high school. According to Bregy, the property immediately behind the portable classrooms known as the Village has been purchased by Metro and is planned to be used for a staging area.
“I have more concerns about Metro than I do about our own construction, because even though [the construction contractors] are not our direct employees, I’ll be here every day watching,” Bregy said. “I can see [our own construction], but I can’t see what’s happening over here with Metro in this area.”
Bregy fears that as Metro uses this area to expand its tunnel over the next seven years, the incoming activity will be a distraction for students and further complicate a campus dynamic already facing chaotic construction projects of its own.
“Of course, I’m worried about what’s underground, but having a fully active construction area that you have no control over [is concerning],” Bregy said. “It’s an unknown for me, so I’m just worried about what it’s going to look like since I don’t know.”
In addition to the staging area, Metro has informed the district that Metro needs to complete surveys and tests, particularly around the tennis courts and bungalows. However, the district is still fighting Metro’s decision to tunnel under the school.
For Bregy, the many constructions and destructions occurring simultaneously are a challenge to monitor and contain.
“There isn’t a high school in the country, perhaps the world, that is going to be having three different types of construction. Having Metro right there, Venoco right here and modernization all at the same time,” Bregy said. “It’s a triangulation of problems, we need to stay on top of it.”