SOUTH GATE — Pupils at Tweedy Elementary School, forced to abandon their building three years ago after contaminants apparently made them sick, may be uprooted from their portable classrooms in a city park.
An agreement that allowed the school to set up temporary facilities in South Gate Park is scheduled to expire next March, and the federal government has rejected appeals to extend the lease.
"The extension would set a (bad) precedent," said Holly Bundock, assistant regional director of public affairs for the National Park Service. That agency is involved in the decision because two federal grants helped pay for a sprinkler system in the park several years ago. The grants stated that the park must be restricted to recreational uses, she said.
Officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has jurisdiction over South Gate schools, said they hope to build a new school eventually but acknowledged that it would not be ready for several years.
The district has no land in the area to build on nor money to build with, said Maria Casillas, superintendent of the district's Region B, which includes South Gate.
She added that any potential school site in the area must be checked for the presence of toxic materials, which slows the process.
The district staff is reviewing an environmental study done on a site not far from Tweedy's old campus, Casillas said.
Tweedy, a year-round school for kindergarten through fifth grade, was moved to the park in 1988 after pupils and staff complained of nausea, headaches and throat irritation. Paint emissions and chlorine leaks at nearby industrial plants were cited as the likely culprits, said Susie Wong, director of the district's environmental health and safety branch.
If city and school officials fail to persuade the National Park Service to agree to an extension, Tweedy's 670 children may have to be moved to several other schools, said Dale Braun, a facilities consultant for the district. And neighboring schools would be unable to accommodate all of them, she said. "There's just not enough space."
The Tweedy pupils could be kept together by moving them to a new campus in Bell that is scheduled to open in the spring, Braun said. Another option, she added, is to bus them to schools in the San Fernando Valley. Neither plan has been brought before the school board.
But parents and school officials feel strongly that Tweedy should be allowed to operate at the park until a new school can be built.
Tweedy's portable classrooms take up three acres that used to be a parking lot in the 92-acre park, which features a golf course, South Gate Auditorium, a sports center, baseball diamonds and tennis courts.
"(National Park Service officials) couldn't possibly believe that to uproot those children and put (the area) back to park use--as a parking lot--is better," said Willene Cooper, chairwoman of an area legislative committee on school overcrowding. She said the parking lot was filled only a few times a year.
Building a new school in an area that has been plagued by overcrowding could take five to 10 years, Cooper said.
Although South Gate Park is far from an ideal site, parents said, it is only a few blocks from the old school building and is more than adequate until a new school can be built.
Maria Ruiz, mother of a second-grader, said: "We should . . . have another school or stay in the area. I don't want my kid to be bused. I want my kid to stay right here in this neighborhood because I live in this neighborhood."
Other parents agreed, adding that they bought their homes to be near Tweedy, which they say is known for its dedicated teaching staff.
George Brake, who has taught at Tweedy for 27 years, said another move would be painful for the children.
Mayor Robert A. Philipp expressed unhappiness at the prospect of another move for Tweedy, but said the park was a temporary solution at best. "We knew it was a double-edged sword going into this agreement," he said. "We can't keep the school there forever. We can only hope we develop the new site as soon as possible."
Ruiz said the parents have written letters urging Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles) to intervene. A spokeswoman for Hawkins said he is trying to persuade the National Park Service to reconsider the request to extend the agreement.