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Students Get a Concrete Lesson

A contractor helps a scruffy-looking continuation school help itself by showing kids how to put in a classy new floor.

June 04, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

A chunk of gray sidewalk -- that's what George Gemayel imagined when he heard that concrete was being donated to his Costa Mesa continuation high school.

The pottery class at the 16-year-old's campus needed such a floor space to throw its pots, but money for it hadn't been included in the school's renovation budget.

What Back Bay High is getting, though, is a concrete slab with a granite-like texture, etched with sun shapes that could have been lifted from Disneyland.

Marshall Barabasch, the contractor Walt Disney Co. uses to install concrete at its parks around the world, volunteered to give the school a concrete project of the same style used in Frontierland and the Haunted Mansion. One condition: The school had to recruit kids to help install the floor so they could learn the concrete trade.

For Barabasch, who attended a San Fernando Valley continuation high school 30 years ago, the chance to give Back Bay kids something nice was as valuable as possibly jump-starting a career in concrete.

"If you're going to do something for a school, I'd rather do it for one that really needs the help," he said.

Barabasch also wanted to expose students to career opportunities, showing them that construction work involves all kinds of skills: driving trucks, pouring concrete, cutting geometric patterns into concrete.

The project started in earnest Thursday, when the contractors told students to get there by 7 a.m. if they wanted to watch the cement mixer. They didn't expect any would actually show up nearly two hours before school normally starts, but junior George Gemayel arrived before the truck did.

"It's not every day you can get a free hands-on lesson at your school on something you want to make into your career," said the lanky young man, whom Barabasch nicknamed "Big George."

On Tuesday, the midpoint of the nine-day project, George and six other students dipped paintbrushes into tubs of what looked like green and brown food coloring to stain the ground into a caramel and mahogany concrete patchwork.

By the end of the drizzly day, they had created the illusion of flagstone, just like that at Disneyland and in Las Vegas hotels such as Caesars Palace.

Tom Holtom, consultant for Newport-Mesa Unified School District's modernization work, is a former Disney park designer and the man who asked Barabasch for help. Holtom estimated the value of the project's labor, equipment and materials at $25,000.

Staring at the 1,500-square-foot slab Tuesday morning, Back Bay Principal Deborah Davis shook her head in amazement.

"This is not what I imagined," she said. "I had been thinking it would look like part of a sidewalk, no more, no less."

The elaborate concrete, along with the other renovations at the shabby campus with its peeling paint and unsightly wooden walkways, will go a long way toward making kids feel more valued, she said.

George, in his first semester at Back Bay after attending Costa Mesa High, agreed.

"Other schools look down on us because they think we're the bad kids or whatever," he said. "But what other school is getting a piece of Disneyland on their campus?"

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