Burbank city and school officials broke ground Tuesday for Miller Kindergarten School, the Burbank Unified School District's latest endeavor to relieve overcrowding.
Suggested about six months ago by a parent, the kindergartners-only facility is the district's first new school in 30 years and represents a cooperative effort with the city.
Burbank officials used redevelopment funds to clear the lot in the 400 block of S. San Fernando Road and have agreed to lease it to the district for $1 per year. Previously home to a bowling alley, the 27,300-square-foot site backs up to a residential neighborhood and is situated among businesses that include a towing yard, a hardware store and a taxidermy service.
Officials marked the start of construction Tuesday with a ceremonial groundbreaking.
"It is such a thrill to be here," said Denise Wilcox, president of the district school board. "There have been so many people who have worked so hard to make this happen."
The school is scheduled to open in September with four classrooms, diverting up to 150 children from the overflowing Miller Elementary School a few blocks away. That school was built in the 1920s to house up to 345 students. The addition of 13 portable buildings over the years has expanded its capacity to about 750 students, but 850 students are enrolled now and another 25 are expected in the fall.
"The facility is totally maxed out," Wilcox said.
School officials are excited by the construction, but admit it's just the latest stopgap measure to relieve crowding.
They've already converted a computer lab for use as regular classroom space, encouraged voluntary transfers to other campuses and shifted sixth-graders up to middle school facilities to create more room.
They've also discussed using a year-round, multitrack schedule, which met with little enthusiasm from parents.
"This is a short-term solution," said Gail Copeland, Miller Elementary School principal. "The long-term solution is a new school in this area, (for grades) K through five."
Although campus overcrowding has traditionally been seen as a problem for school officials to address, Burbank Vice Mayor Susan Spanos said Tuesday it's important that city officials participated in the kindergarten school project.
City leaders allowed the mammoth development of apartments in the 1980s that contributed to the influx of students, Spanos said. "We feel as a council it's our responsibility to step in and mitigate some of the things the city contributed to."
School officials are happy for the city's involvement. Without the discounted lease price, the district would be unable to afford the site, Copeland said.
Construction costs for the school are estimated at $750,000.
Among those who attended the ceremony was Bill Roskam, one of Miller Elementary School's original 1922-23 class of 13 students.
"I just stopped by to see what was going on," said Roskam, who is now 77 and still lives in Burbank.
An insurance broker and instructor at the University of Redlands, Roskam agreed to donate a group photograph of his kindergarten class to be displayed at the new school.