The urgency of overdue renovations in LA schools – The Mirror

The condition of school infrastructure plays a crucial role in providing a conducive learning environment for students and teachers. However, several schools, including Van Nuys, face significant challenges in improving infrastructure.

At Sunnybrae Elementary School, located in Winnetka, CA, students, teachers and parents protested in early March over the presence of mold and carbon monoxide in student classrooms.

When Mike Barnard picked up his 10-year-old son from school, he observed a sudden change in his son’s health and behavior, experiencing symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, throat infections and more. Dismissing the symptoms as a cold and associating his son’s repetitive illness with a weak immune system, Barnard would later realize he was wrong.

After receiving a letter from another parent sharing information about what happened at the elementary school, Mike Barnard discovered the real culprit who was repeatedly making his son sick: mold.

DETERIORED Many of the air conditioning units in the bungalows are rusted and malfunctioning, leading to poor air circulation and stuffy classrooms for students in the area. (THE MIRROR | IVAN ALCALA)

“I noticed he didn’t have the same energy as he used to, where he would always want to play, always want to do something,” he said. “When I found out what was really going on, I jumped in right away.”

Experienced in organizing campaigns, Barnard took on the role of speaker for the movement, voicing the complaints of parents, teachers and students.

Before protesting in front of Sunnybrae’s campus, Barnard and other parents attempted to convey their concerns to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in hopes of receiving a response. They submitted medical records, photos of mold in classrooms and a petition asking for the removal of principal Dana Carter.

“Ideally, we wanted the district to address the situation,” he said. “But no one responded and we continued protesting.”

According to Barnard, Principal Carter had known about the mold in the classrooms since September and advised teachers not to tell parents.

During a phone call with a district representative, Barnard emphasized that if a district member’s child attended Sunnybrae and was exposed to mold in a classroom, immediate action would have been taken. He says the district member agreed with him.

“I told her, ‘If it had been one of your children, you would have demolished those bungalows and fired the principal for neglect,’” he said. “A lady who works for the district completely agreed with me.”

Uploading evidence of mold and videos of the protest to his TikTok and Instagram pages, Barnard is determined to continue advocating not only for Sunnybrae, but for schools around the world.

@la_chroniclesSunny Brae Avenue Elementary School students and parents protest alleged carbon monoxide and mold in classrooms♬ original sound – Los Angeles Chronicles

“It sucks that my son had to go through this, but I see it as an opportunity to teach others to get involved in child protection,” he said. “This is about helping future generations.”

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) conducts an assessment of the performance and condition of America’s infrastructure, assigning letter grades based on the infrastructure’s physical condition and the extremity of investments required for improvement.

In the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, ASCE gave school facilities nationwide a D+ rating, confirming that 53% of public school districts need to update or replace various building systems, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

State capital financing, which represents the second largest sector of public investment, declined 31% in fiscal year 2017 compared to fiscal year 2008, representing a reduction of approximately $20 billion in annual funding to public school facilities in the whole country.

FALL APART Some of the school’s HVACs, especially those behind the arts building, are overgrown and outdated. (THE MIRROR | IVAN ALCALA)

Schools are not only educational institutions for new generations, but also community centers where people can take refuge in emergency situations. So it is critical that schools are in good condition and provide adequate space, clean water, reliable heating and air conditioning, and modern technology for students and community members.

More than 100 years old, Van Nuys is facing a plethora of problems, with much of its infrastructure in disrepair.

From deteriorating parking lots to outdated toilets and ‘temporary’ bungalows, the list is extensive.

The presence of asbestos in certain areas, such as on the floor of the main building, further complicates infrastructure repairs and replacements, necessitating careful planning and adherence to safety guidelines.

Despite the fact that the plans were drawn up more than fifteen years ago, the school is lagging behind in realizing the necessary improvements. While neighboring schools are being modernized, Van Nuys remains overlooked, raising concerns within the school community.

According to Facilities Manager Ms. Anabel Bonney, district officials have given several reasons for the delays. They state that Van Nuys is structurally healthy.

By repurposing the student restrooms for staff and designating the restroom in the 400s Building for special education students, it is clear that there is a shortage of adequate restrooms.

“Ten toilets are available to support almost 300 employees,” Ms Bonney said.

Limited access to a restroom increases teachers’ ability to teach because both teachers and students need time to travel to a more distant restroom.

The age of the school and neglect by district officials have created dangers for students and teachers that continue to deteriorate the campus. These problems become more expensive to repair as time goes by.

“A bathroom renovation can cost between $200,000 and $400,000,” Ms. Bonney estimated. “They are old and could use a renovation.”

In LA Unified’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho and LAUSD Board Member Kelly Gonez proposed five pillars that represent the district’s focal point in improving performance and the quality of education students receive.

RAMSHACKLE Many grilles that protect the air-conditioning units in the bungalows have been rusted and removed, leading to poor air circulation and stuffy classrooms for students in the area. (THE MIRROR | IVAN ALCALA)

The five pillars of the Strategic Plan 2022-2026 are academic excellence, fun and well-being, involvement and collaboration, operational effectiveness and investing in staff.

In the fourth pillar of school infrastructure modernization, the Strategic Plan aims to modernize information technology infrastructure in at least 66% of schools, improve LAUSD’s solar energy system to reach 62% of capacity, and major modernization projects at seven schools, with an additional $650 million going to fund classroom accessibility projects by 2026.

More than $4.19 billion was allocated to major and comprehensive modernization projects at more than two dozen LAUSD high schools, with construction nearing completion or expected to begin within the next two to three years.

Van Nuys High School was not among the schools included in the plan.

According to District 3 board member Scott Schelmerson, each board member was allowed to nominate a school they wanted to prioritize in the major modernization project, which saw a total of seven schools undergo major changes.

Before Van Nuys was represented by Scott Schmerelson, he was represented by District 6 board member Kelly Gonez.

Asked about the criteria Gonez used to determine which schools should be prioritized, no response was received from her or her office.

Introduced by LAUSD in 1998 as temporary structures to relieve overcrowded classrooms, bungalows have become a long-standing fixture at several schools in the district. At Van Nuys in particular, they have occupied the 500s area for over 25 years.

“It’s been over 25 years and they’re still there,” Ms Bonney said. “25 years is not temporary. They are ingrained in the infrastructure of our school.”

Aside from the lack of restrooms and classrooms, outdated HVAC units occupy both the 1910s and 200s buildings.

Ms. Bonney explains that the main building currently uses a portable HVAC unit that the district rents for about $10,000 per month, while the 2000s building has a temporary HVAC unit that has been installed on the outside for more than seven years. use.

“The temporary unit would be located on the roof of the Science Building to power all indoor air conditioning and heating,” she said. “The roof structure cannot support the weight of the unit, so a crane cannot place it on it.”

EXPIRED The stairs between the science and main buildings are crumbling and asymmetrical. (THE MIRROR | IVAN ALCALA)

From March 12 to July 31, a team sent from the district will conduct a survey to analyze the accessibility and safety of buildings, classrooms and structures on our campus, documenting and photographing any errors. After meeting with Mr. Schmerelson and giving him a tour of the campus as he presented the problems, Ms. Bonney hopes this will lead to some improvements.

“I already know we won’t follow the rules,” Ms. Bonney said. “We have been around for over a hundred years.”

Ms. Bonney goes on to say that she believes this research will make progress and create more awareness about modernizing the school’s infrastructure.

Van Nuys will receive taxpayer money from the state of California over the next five to ten years to improve schools. Ms Bonney hopes the school will progress and establish a 500s building, along with other facilities.

She believes modernizing the school will retain teachers and attract students to Van Nuys, given the school’s declining enrollment.

“We could benefit from modernization,” she said. “I think it would certainly attract more students and increase our enrollment and maybe retain a lot of our staff.”

The continued lack of improvement in school infrastructure is a pressing problem that requires urgent attention and action. Neglected schools not only fail to meet the basic needs of students and teachers, but also perpetuate inequality and hinder academic achievement.

The abridged version of this article appeared in the Spring 2024 print edition. This is an uncut version.