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Overcrowded Montebello District Looks at 7 More Sites for New Schools

June 11, 1987|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

The Montebello Unified School District is considering seven additional sites for new schools, including what is now a chiropractic school in Pico Rivera and property targeted for senior citizen housing by Bell Gardens.

A report recently submitted to the Board of Education increased to 20 the number of sites under consideration for three new schools the crowded district hopes to build in the next five to seven years, said district business manager Stephen L. Phillips.

The Board of Education is slowly moving ahead with the site-selection process, which could bring protests from area cities, residents and businessmen. Because the district is densely developed, the Board of Education is considering industrial and residential property it could acquire--through eminent domain, if necessary--for the schools.

"You're not going to find agricultural land or unused land," Phillips said.

Big Decision

The big decision confronting district officials is whether to avoid acquiring residential property at the expense of developed commercial or industrial sites.

Of the 20 sites, six contain or may be expanded to contain residential property, Phillips said. A dozen are being used for industrial, commercial or school purposes, and five are in various stages of development. (See map page 6.)

The seven new sites include a 2.4-acre site that is home to the Pasadena College of Chiropractic in Pico Rivera.

College President Arthur J. Garrow said he was unaware that the college had been picked as a potential school site. The 180-student college has been on Beverly Road in Pico Rivera for a little more than two years. "It would not be convenient for us to have to move," he said. "Have you ever moved a campus?"

Housing for Seniors

Another of the sites is a 10- to 13-acre parcel south of Gage and Greenwood avenues in Commerce and Bell Gardens. It would include 12 residential lots if all 13 acres are used. Bell Gardens is working with a private developer to build senior citizen housing on the site, which is home to a closed truck terminal.

The other sites include the district's Vail High School, which could be expanded, and four largely industrial parcels.

Of the original 13 sites submitted in an April 1 report to the Board of Education, one has already provoked a good deal of concern from the City of Commerce and a Dallas-based developer.

Commerce owns the 35-acre site that is home to the former Uniroyal plant, a Santa Ana Freeway landmark built in 1929 to resemble an Assyrian castle. The city is negotiating a lease and development agreement with the Trammell Crow Co. of Dallas to convert the abandoned tire plant into a hotel-office complex.

Revenue Loss Seen

Ira Gwin, the city's director of community development, said the city would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in tax revenue if the site were used for a school. He also said the industrial area is unsuitable for a school.

"We think it's taking a prime piece of industrial property off the tax rolls, and in the long run it's not going to do the school district or the city any good," he said.

Trammell Crow, which won a competitive bidding contest to develop the site, has tangled with the school district before.

In January, Montebello Unified condemned a 14-acre site upon which Trammell Crow had started building a large warehouse project. The site at the northeast corner of Gage and Garfield avenues is targeted for an elementary or intermediate school.

The two sides are negotiating the acquisition price.

Cites Benefits of Project

"This is a tough situation for us," said spokesman Kevin Staley. "We've already had one of our other sites condemned, and we hope the school board will recognize some of the benefits that the project hopes to bring."

Montebello school officials say the district is bursting at the seams and that there is enough classroom space only because portable buildings have been installed at each school.

The district, which serves portions of seven cities and two communities and includes 27 elementary, intermediate and high schools, has a student population of about 30,800. That is expected to increase to 33,700 pupils by the 1991-92 school year, according to district projections. The cities are Bell Gardens, Commerce, Downey, Montebello, Monterey Park, Pico Rivera and Rosemead. The district also serves South San Gabriel and East Los Angeles, two unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.

Phillips said overcrowding has cut into playground and cafeteria space at many of the district's schools.

"The reason the common facilities are overcrowded is because we keep putting portable classrooms on playground and grass areas," he said.

Strong Opposition

The mention of buying or seizing residential property through eminent domain usually brings strong opposition from residents who fear inadequate relocation payments or who simply do not want to leave their neighborhoods.

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