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Frustration Smolders Among Faculty, Students : New Facilities Slow to Rise From Ashes at Pierce

October 13, 1987|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

For students at Pierce College, the ragtag collection of makeshift classrooms that have lined the western side of the Woodland Hills campus since 1949 has never been a glamorous place to study.

Since a $250,000 fire destroyed one building and damaged another 4 1/2 months ago, students have found it downright depressing to attend class in the 17 bungalows, however.

To get to temporary trailers, students walk past the charred hulks of the buildings and step over broken glass left by the arson-caused June 2 fire.

Inside the makeshift quarters, teachers who are six weeks into their new school year are awaiting new equipment to replace classroom materials destroyed in the fire.

Scorched Paper Work

Workers in the campus financial aid office damaged by the fire blacken their hands when they shuffle through scorched student-loan applications.

At the east side of the campus, college officials are trying to light a fire of their own beneath various outside agencies and organizations that have stalled the cleanup and repair process.

On Monday, rain falling into the burned buildings was giving rise to an ashy stench that was a new reminder of the damage.

"It's depressing," said Mike Cornner, head of the college's journalism department, which lost a classroom and offices for the school's newspaper in the fire.

"The bungalows are bad enough--the fact that they were put in as temporary housing after World War II and are still in use. But to have them burn and then sit here as hulks for months afterward is very depressing."

'There's Anger'

Bruce Whidden, a sophomore journalism major, agreed. "There's anger there at seeing these damaged buildings."

Journalism teacher Robert Scheibel said faculty members expected that new bungalows would be trucked in during the three-month summer vacation to replace the damaged ones.

Instead, a small trailer for the journalism department was hauled in four days before the start of school last month. Instructors were scurrying to fill it with new desks and replacement equipment as students filed in, he said.

College administrators said Monday that students and staff members will have to bear with the wrecked buildings for a few more weeks. They will have to endure their trailers for a few more months after that.

"It's frustrating that it has taken so long," said William Norlund, the college's vice president for administrative services. "I drive by shopping center sites and see them go up in what seems like two days."

But Pierce officials found themselves engulfed in red tape when smoke from the bungalow fire cleared, he said.

Slow Investigation

The insurance company covering the structures was slow to complete its investigation. Then school officials had to decide whether to raze the damaged structures or repair them, he said.

That process involved the hiring of an architect to study the damage. Then his work was reviewed by the Office of the State Architect to make certain the repairs would comply with current safety standards.

When it was decided that one building would be bulldozed and replaced with a bungalow borrowed from another Los Angeles Community College District campus, soils tests had to be commissioned and a demolition contract had to be put out to bid. A repair contract for the second damaged bungalow was also drawn up.

This month's earthquake has delayed bids from demolition companies that are busy cleaning up earthquake damage, Norlund said.

Insurance that covered the loss was not sufficient to pay for construction of permanent, conventional replacement classrooms, said Art Hernandez, dean of students at Pierce.

Hernandez said he also is frustrated by the length of time the buildings have been in use. He said the buildings were supposed to be used for five years, not 38.

'Hell of a Fix'

"But the state has a Catch-22 that says if you are using it, you can't replace it. To add to the insult, they won't give you money for maintenance because it's temporary. It's a hell of a fix."

Students and staff members said there were some silver linings to the fire, though.

Although the flames melted computers and typewriters and scorched some of the completed page paste-ups of the June 3 edition of the Roundup, the college's newspaper, typesetting equipment was salvaged and students were able to publish a replacement edition with a story about the fire, said editor Liz Ziemba, a sophomore history major.

The journalism department eventually will emerge from the fire with new computers and new typewriters--the fancy electric kind this time, said Cornner.

The school's Gender Equity program, which counsels returning students, has reopened in a trailer after suffering major damage in the fire.

The 535 student loan applications in the financial aid office were so tightly crammed in filing cabinets that only 19 were destroyed, said office supervisor Karol Bravo. They were recreated. The others, although singed around the edges, are readable, she said.

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