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Little Red Schoolhouse a Gift of Love to Catalina

December 07, 1986|JILL STEWART | Times Staff Writer

For the past 53 years, Cliff Tucker has had a love affair with Two Harbors, the sleepy isthmus hamlet on Santa Catalina Island where wild foxes roam unafraid and clear coves sparkle with brightly colored fish.

The Long Beach yachtsman, who first visited the island in 1933, knows all the families in the village and has watched the children grow up to raise youngsters of their own.

But it always bothered Tucker and his late wife that the children had no school and that each day even the smallest ones endured a dusty, exhausting, 1 1/2-hour bus ride to school in neighboring Avalon.

So next year, Tucker hopes to give something back to the island that has given him so much.

He is building the children a school. And not just any school, but a one-room schoolhouse, bright red, with a big brass bell in its tower.

"The way I figure it, I've been using that island for so many years, and have so many memories, I've got to put something back," Tucker said. "My wife has since passed away, but we were sitting here one night and she said, 'You know, it's a rotten shame that those kids have to ride that bus.' "

Ever since, Tucker said, he has thought about a little schoolhouse "with all the works."

If the plan is approved by state architectural officials and the Long Beach Unified School District, as expected, the 14-student school will become the only one-room schoolhouse in Los Angeles County, where the last one closed in 1981.

As such, it will buck a national trend: One-room schoolhouses have dwindled from 150,000 in 1930 to a few hundred today. Fewer than 40 are left in California.

Families Thrilled

The $100,000 Two Harbors school, serving kindergarten through fourth grade, will be built by Scotsman Manufacturing Co. The company, founded by Tucker and now owned by his son, builds portable offices and classrooms for California school districts.

In Two Harbors, population 150, families say they are thrilled that their long-held dream, hampered for years by a lack of money, is finally about to come true.

"This is just so great for our family," said Randy Bombard, who has four school-age children and another on the way.

"My kids leave at 6:30 in the morning and get home at 4:30 at night, and I've just never thought that was right, to see them so little. But what could we do?"

Maureen Oudin agreed. "We are so excited about it, with our kindergartner heading to first grade next year. . . . "

"The whole community is really behind it," Oudin said, "and we're launching a big effort to raise money for everything the kids will need, like an extra computer and a world globe."

District Persuaded

Long Beach school district officials, who had been reluctant in past years to put money into a school that will not grow beyond 20 or 30 children for many years, said they were persuaded this year to move forward because of the commitment--both financial and emotional--of parents, Tucker and other supporters.

"We're very excited about it and we'd like to make it one of the finest little one-room schoolhouses in America," said Donald Ashley, the district's assistant superintendent of elementary schools.

He said parents and supporters, including several mainland-based yachtsmen who frequent Two Harbors, have agreed to raise money for a foundation overseen by the school district.

The foundation will help the district pay the school's yearly operating costs and purchase classroom materials, Ashley said.

Ashley said the district had been concerned about approving a school in Two Harbors because "as much as you might love the idea of a one-room school, it stops making sense financially when it's so small."

$4,000 Per Year, Per Child

In fact, each Two Harbors child will cost the district $4,000 a year, while the rest of the children in the Long Beach district cost only $2,000 a year, he said.

"But all the parents are determined to raise the extra money it's going to take to do the job right," Ashley said. "We had a wonderful session with the parents for an hour, and we believe they are committed."

Frank Blair, a Long Beach dentist and yachtsman who helped set up the negotiations between Two Harbors residents and school district officials, said other yachtsmen and longtime visitors to Two Harbors are coming forward now.

"People are standing in line to donate the bell and the flagpole," said Blair, who has donated money to the foundation. "I'm just so pleased about it, because I just can't justify a little 5-year-old on an hour-and-a-half bus ride."

Tucker said the school is likely to open next fall.

Tucker is working with state officials to be certain that the school conforms to all architectural and educational standards, and he is awaiting word from the school district on a location for the building.

"We're going to do whatever their specifications say, whatever they want, to make sure it sails through," he said.

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