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School Site Struggle : After 4 Years, Lynwood Still No Closer to Building New High School

August 09, 1987|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

LYNWOOD — When school Supt. Charlie Mae Knight went to the aging and overcrowded Lynwood High School one day in 1983, she brought a promise for members of the freshman class: They would graduate from a sparkling new high school.

Knight, who has since left the school system, had reason to be confident in her pledge because the state had just agreed to give the Lynwood Unified School District $34 million to replace Lynwood High with a modern facility.

"We were looking forward to it," said Austin McCowan, one of the freshmen who heard that promise four years ago.

But in June, McCowan and 480 of his classmates graduated from the same 30-year-old school they had entered as freshmen. "It hurt when we didn't get the school," said McCowan, 18, president of the class of 1987.

Portable Classrooms

When school reopens this fall, Lynwood High--built to accommodate 1,000 students--will have an enrollment of 2,800. Some of the students will attend classes in the auditorium, others in the school library. Twenty-five portable trailers on the campus also will serve as makeshift classrooms.

"There is no room for additional trailers. Classes are crowded. Teachers don't like it because they do not have individual rooms but must share with other teachers," Principal Larry Tripplett said.

To stretch the crowded facilities further, Tripplett last year added another class period and staggered the class times. Some students start school at 7 a.m. while others come in at 8 a.m. For some, school ends at 2 p.m.; others stay until 3 p.m.

Unfair to Students

"It is grossly overcrowded. It is unfair to the students," Tripplett said.

Cowan, who led student protests last semester that pushed for improvements at the old school, speculates that maybe the class of 1993 will be able to graduate from the long-promised high school.

But Tripplett is less optimistic. "I've attended board meetings. I heard how they were arguing. There will never be a high school. It is a political thing," he said.

School board members--locked in a legal fight with owners of the land where they want to build the school--say they cannot talk about the high school, much less predict when it will be open for students. But there is no doubt that the project has been both political and controversial, with the district now besieged on a number of fronts:

The Imperial Highway site picked by the district board is being fought in court by property owners who are protesting condemnation of their land.

In order to build the high school on the site selected, the district would have to tear down the successful Lynwood Adventist Academy, operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Supporters of the parochial school have protested with hundreds of supporters and threats for a constitutional fight based on separation of church and state.

The Lynwood City Council, lending a sympathetic ear to the Seventh-day Adventists, last week declared the academy site a local historical landmark with the hope of restricting other development--such as a new school--on the grounds. The council believes it is a prerequisite to acquiring protected status as a state historical landmark.

Only Site Left

With all the problems presented by the chosen property--24 acres owned by the academy and 12 acres owned by the Sterik Co. of West Los Angeles--school district officials said it is the only place left to build a new school. That is especially true, they say, if they do not wipe out large numbers of homes, which the school board has tried to avoid.

Henry Heydt, coordinator of the school facilities planning division for the state Department of Education, said Lynwood is not alone in having difficulty finding a place to build its new school. Districts across the state, he said, are grappling with similar problems.

"It is difficult to find a grassy area near a babbling brook with a willow tree in an urban area," Heydt said.

Not Normal Pattern

Still, Lynwood's four-year struggle to break ground does not fit the norm. Lyle Smoot, assistant executive officer of the state Allocation Board, said it usually takes about 18 months for a district to complete the first phase in building a new school. That first phase includes selecting and securing a site.

But four years after getting approval for the state funding, the Lynwood Unified School District is still stuck on square one.

Knight said she remembers well the elation when the district received the money to build the school. Her first choice was to build a portion of the high school on 31 acres that included the 10-acre Ham Park, next to the Long Beach Freeway.

Board Vs. Council

"After some of the board members visited Ham Park, the board voted 5-0 for the site. Then the fight started. It became Charlie Knight versus the City Council," said Knight, who is superintendent of the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto but is still a resident of Lynwood and serves on the Compton Community College Board of Trustees.

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