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School Lauds a Gem of a Gym

Kennedy High in Granada Hills will mark the dedication of a new, nicer facility to replace one damaged in the 1994 earthquake.

October 30, 2002|David Pearson | Times Staff Writer

Three principals and two generations of students later, Kennedy High School finally has the new gymnasium many had envisioned after the Northridge earthquake wreaked havoc on the Granada Hills campus.

For eight years, students have made do with a badly damaged gym that sank at an angle after the 6.7 magnitude earthquake weakened the soil underneath.

Tiles fell from the ceiling and doors no longer closed because their frames were slanted. The same floor that Anaheim Angels star Garret Anderson once ran as a high school basketball player had to be shaved to keep it level.

Meanwhile, school and federal officials debated whether to build a new structure or repair the existing one. Two years ago, the Federal Emergency Management Agency gave the Los Angeles Unified School District permission to proceed with construction. Altogether, L.A. Unified received $191 million in federal funds for earthquake repairs. The district immediately made plans to build a $7-million gym at Kennedy, the school most severely damaged in the 1994 quake.

"The district has taken a black eye for Belmont," Craig Raub, head of the Kennedy physical education department, said in reference to the environmentally hazardous school construction site downtown. "But our gym came about through cooperation between teachers, parents, FEMA and kids. The best part is when the alumni come back. They're going to wish they went to school here after an earthquake."

The school learned to adapt shortly after the disastrous tremor forced students into trailers, Raub said. At first, the old gym was red-tagged and off limits. After a few months, enough precautionary repairs were made -- a tarp was hung to catch falling ceiling debris, for example -- that the building could be used again. With no locker rooms, students formed a human curtain around classmates so they could change into gym clothes.

Today, school board members, students, teachers and parents will dedicate the facility that is safer than its predecessor and is a stark contrast to the drab designs of most district schools. The old Kennedy gym was windowless and so poorly lighted that television crews had to bring extra lights to tape events. The new gym, built nearby, has ample lighting, and glass blocks dot its facade to bring in sunlight.

And then there are the $250,000 maple floors that will give athletes' steps more bounce and prevent injuries by absorbing shock. The old floor was so dull it made visiting players wonder why they couldn't jump as high.

"This is L.A. Unified's showpiece" gymnasium, said architect Rebecca L. Binder, who also designed the school's administration building, which opened in 1998.

The 44,000-square-foot building also features an auxiliary gym, a classroom, locker rooms, offices and a much-welcomed air-conditioned weight room.

"In the summer, we would sweat so much we'd get dehydrated," said junior Jorge Rivera of the old weight room, where the roof leaked and the walls were etched with graffiti. "It stank like nasty."

Varsity volleyball player Brittany Boulton said the new building is aesthetically something to be proud of, but more important, safer than the old gym.

"I don't feel like tiles are going to fall on my head," the 17-year-old said.

Deborah Bennett, a parent of a Kennedy graduate, lobbied since 1996 with other parents and teachers and school board member Julie Korenstein to get a new gym built.

"Bless Kennedy," she said. "It was horrible what happened in the earthquake. Like a lot of us, our houses are better off now. But you have to go through [a lot] to get there."

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