LYNWOOD — The City Council has given its support to a group attempting to prevent the local school district from condemning the private Lynwood Adventist Academy to build a public high school.
After listening to impassioned speeches by students, parents, administrators and others opposing condemnation, the council voted unanimously Tuesday to investigate how the site can be designated as a historical landmark.
If that happens, supporters say, the city could impose strict limitations on the Lynwood Unified School District that could prevent development of the property. The academy, affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, was built in 1936.
Both council members and academy supporters said they are uncertain whether the historical designation would derail the school board's plan to condemn the property.
But Joseph F. Dent Jr., chairman of STOPPS (Stop Taking Our Private Parochial Schools), said he hoped the designation "would serve as a possible block or at the very least delay condemnation proceedings."
Mayor Paul H. Richards told the overflow crowd of more than 150: "I don't know where the historic landmark will take it, but everyone is losing right now. We need to entertain new options."
The STOPPS group had staged a protest march from the academy, at 11081 Harris Ave., to gain citywide support before going to City Hall.
"If we lose a significant institution of higher education, no one wins. This is not a city matter, but the city has some obligation to create some dialogue, to come up with definitive options," Richards said later in an interview. "Everyone needs to sit down at the table and come up with a permanent solution."
Richards said he will call for an ad hoc committee composed of Adventists, council members and school district representatives to discuss ways to save the academy and find another solution for overcrowding at Lynwood High School.
The mayor said the school district should explore other alternatives, such as adding a second story to the existing public high school on Bullis Road.
Richards also suggested an alternative school site that the council vigorously opposed in the past: city-owned Ham Park.
The school district also rejected Ham Park, Richards said, because "everyone was worried about toxic waste. Now that problem has been solved. Ham Park can be looked at again."
The state agreed this year to remove nearly 100,000 cubic yards of hazardous waste from the Willco Dump, near the park. The dump site will become a major interchange for the Century Freeway.
In 1985, the city council and school board spent considerable time squabbling over the Ham Park site. City officials maintained then that because of a deed restriction, the land could be used only as a park. Richards was not on the council during that debate.
School Board President Helen Andersen said this week of the park site: "It would be premature to make a comment. It would be speculation at this point. Until I see what they have to say, I won't comment."
Condemnation proceedings are now in court against both the academy property and the Sterik Co. of West Los Angeles, which owns 12 acres, containing two vacant grocery stores, on the 42000 block of Imperial Highway, next to the school's athletic field.
In December, the Lynwood school board voted to condemn the academy buildings and the athletic field. The 20-acre academy property includes a high school, an elementary school and a church.
The STOPPS group has announced a march to the school board meeting Tuesday, where it will appeal to the board to stop condemnation proceedings. Its leaders say they will present petitions with at least 1,000 signatures opposing condemnation. Earlier, the board had been presented with petitions bearing another 2,000 signatures.
"In the last election, there were only 2,800 voters that turned out. We have gathered these signatures to say that at least that many people in the city are against this move. There is an election in November and the board should be aware," said James Merideth, pastor of Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Pomona and assistant president of the Southern California Council of Seventh-day Adventists.
The school district says a new high school is urgently needed to relieve overcrowding. Lynwood High School was built to accommodate 1,500 students and now has nearly 3,000.