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Toxics Issue Forcing School Board Vote on Tweedy Closure

June 18, 1987|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH GATE — Two members of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education are seeking to close Tweedy Elementary School, located in a heavily industrial area and criticized by many parents as a potential health hazard.

Board members Larry M. Gonzalez and John R. Greenwood said they have drafted a motion to close Tweedy and will ask the seven-member board to take up the issue at its regular meeting Monday.

The motion also requests that the superintendent of schools involve local elected officials, parents, school staff and others in developing a plan for the closing and relocation.

"This could happen as soon and as quickly as next school year. It depends on what parents want," said Gonzalez, who is chairman of the board's building committee, which develops school closing policies.

Greenwood said the board "should not compromise our students and teachers to toxics. Many are concerned about the long-range effect. I don't think the district should wait until another incident happens."

Last year more than 70 people, including 27 Tweedy elementary students, were sent to hospitals with nausea and eye irritation caused by chlorine gas which leaked from a ruptured pipeline at the nearby Purex Corp. plant on Rayo Avenue.

Company Was Fined

The Dial Corp., which owns Purex, was recently fined $42,500 and three corporation officials were placed on probation for one year on misdemeanor charges stemming from the incident.

Studies by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services after the incident showed no immediate health problems, but there were complaints of "sore throats and eye irritation" attributed to nearby chemical plants, said Dr. Paul Papanek, chief of epidemiology for the county Health Department.

"We haven't had any health agency tell us to move," Greenwood said, "but my feeling is this situation is not good for the long term. There are no easy solutions."

Greenwood, who represents the South Gate area, said he would "like to see a resolution to this issue before Larry and I go off the board" July 1. Greenwood was defeated in the April election. Gonzalez did not seek reelection, instead running for the Los Angeles City Council. He lost that election.

"It is too premature to discuss relocation because the real issue is whether the school should be closed. Then a plan for relocation must be developed," Greenwood said. "The community, parents and officials will decide."

Use of Park Proposed

South Gate Mayor Henry Gonzalez said he favors closing the school and exploring options that include placing students in temporary bungalows at nearby South Gate Park. The city could look at either renting or exchanging some land in the 60-acre park for temporary school quarters, Mayor Gonzalez said.

"How can we continue to pass the buck? How can we continue to argue with parents who say their children should be taken out of this situation," the mayor said.

Some parents have protested that the school is unsafe and should be closed. More than a dozen parents picketed the school late last year after the district granted the principal of Tweedy a medical leave, transferring him after he complained of lung problems, nausea, headaches and other health problems. The parents said that if the school is unhealthy for the principal, then it is also unhealthy for the children.

Meanwhile, the school district is continuing its plans to build a regional high school on an industrial site in eastern South Gate. A portion of that site could be used for an elementary school to relocate the Tweedy student body.

Boundaries Outlined

Originally, the district planned to build the $45-million to $50-million high school on a 41.7-acre industrial site east of Atlantic Avenue, bounded on the north by Wood Avenue. The boundary ran south on Burtis Street to Tweedy Boulevard, west on Tweedy to Adella Avenue, south on Adella to the alley behind Aldrich Road and west to Atlantic.

The post office at Atlantic and Chakemco Street was excluded. Homes on Aldrich would not be affected, district officials said.

However, the district recently expanded the proposed area to more than 54 acres, which includes 12.5 additional acres of industrial land south of Tweedy Boulevard between Adella Avenue and Burtis Street.

The district has hired a consultant to do an environmental impact study on all 54 acres at a cost not to exceed $191,429, said Robert Niccum, director of real estate.

The consultant company, ICF Technology of Los Angeles, will study the air, soil, water, noise and traffic in the area, which includes 63 homes and apartments and more than 60 businesses, Niccum said.

"It does not mean we will need all of the land for schools, but if we need it we will have it," Niccum said.

Merchants Hire Lobbyist

The plan has been criticized by Roger Hutchinson, a professional lobbyist representing the South Gate Business Owners Assn., which is opposed to the district's plan to build on the industrial site.

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