AVALON — Ten-year-old Mindy Griffin started school Tuesday in a bridal dressing room above what is generally considered the swankiest restaurant in town. About 60 feet away was the door to the weekend sports bar.
"It's an experience," said the fifth-grader of her new classroom environment. "We're up here all alone."
Added her friend, Amy Upton, also 10: "I'd rather be here than in a regular classroom. In those rooms you can hear the people next door, and the third-graders have this dumb music. It's totally boring."
The two are among 181 elementary school students in this Santa Catalina Island resort town who are being displaced for at least four weeks by a situation that has raised the ire of some parents.
While workers complete major structural repairs on the building the children normally occupy at Avalon School, which is part of the Long Beach Unified School District, the pupils are being instructed in temporary classroom facilities on the school grounds and around town. Among the facilities are two portable bungalows, a local Catholic church, and the Palms Restaurant and conference center--a posh former country club recently resurrected as an expensive eating and meeting place.
Although the children seem to be taking the situation in stride, some of their parents are displaying a lot less flexibility.
"I'm very upset. It's not a good atmosphere; they aren't with the other children," said Diana Cromshaw, whose daughter, along with the rest of her fifth-grade class, must catch a bus every morning in front of the school for the five-minute ride to the Palms.
Added Wendy Offield, mother of a 5-year-old whose kindergarten class is meeting at nearby St. Catherine's Church: "If it were anywhere but Avalon, this wouldn't have happened. If we were in Belmont Heights, we would have the problem solved."
The "problem," as she called it, is at least partially the outcome of a disagreement between the Long Beach Unified School District and a mainland contractor.
New Lavatory Floors
Last spring it became evident that the lavatory floors of the elementary school building--built in 1930--had badly deteriorated. New floors had to be put in. To avoid interference with school activities, said Principal Suzanne Fellenzer, the work was delayed until late June.
Almost immediately, however, the work hit a snag. Jim Henry, owner of Jim Henry Construction Co. of Long Beach, described it as an "unresolvable dispute" between his company and the school district over "the interpretation of contract documents." Dick Van der Laan, spokesman for the district, said it involved a misunderstanding over who was responsible for certain tasks.
According to Marty Sampson, an Avalon contractor who acted as Henry's superintendent on the school job, the dispute stemmed from the discovery of serious deterioration of a lavatory wall. To perform the work on the floors safely, Sampson said, the wall would have to be shored up with a steel beam. The contractor, according to Sampson, believed this to be the school district's responsibility. The district believed it to be the contractor's. The upshot was a monthlong delay that made it impossible to complete the project on time.
Could Have Been Completed
Although the original contract called for completion by Sept. 30, Sampson said he believed the project could have been completed by the time school started on Sept. 9 had it not been for the delay. Eventually, he said, the district paid the company about $21,000 for work already performed and hired a new contractor, B & H Construction of Irvine.
The rest of the work--expected to be completed between Oct. 15 and 31 at a cost of about $141,000--continues under the new contractor. "I guarantee that the whole building will be sound as a dollar when we put kids back into it," said Donald Ashley, assistant superintendent for the district's elementary division.
The district is paying $100 a week each for use of the Palms and the church, Fellenzer said. The cost of the two portable bungalows--which were brought from the mainland and taken on a flatbed through the town's narrow streets--was about $20,000, according to Ashley.
"The youngsters realize this is an emergency situation and that they have to all work together to make it work," Fellenzer said.
First Day Problems
Still, the first day of school was not without problems.
The Palms, built in 1920 by William Wrigley, consists of the restaurant and an upstairs courtyard connecting a large banquet room to the sports bar, which is open only on weekends. A few feet away is the room in which the children meet. It normally serves as a conference hall or bridal dressing room for weddings. Tennis courts and a golf course are next to the facility.
"It's not the greatest, but we're making the best of it," said teacher Barbara Dawes during morning recess as her young pupils charged restlessly from one end of the courtyard to the other.
Less Than Enthusiastic
Some of the students were less enthusiastic. "There's no good recess, just a dumb patio," complained Jennifer Cromshaw, 10.
Added classmate Angela Monroe: "We don't have balls and jump ropes to play with."
Fellenzer said she expected to solve those problems soon. And despite everything, most of the children said they preferred the Palms to their usual school environment.
"You can sneak away and get candy at the golf course," said one, munching on a candy bar.
Added another: "I'd rather be here so I don't have to be in the same school as my boring brother."
Yet a lingering strangeness found expression in the simple comment of a child.
"It feels kind of weird," said Leanna Buster, "going to school where a restaurant is."