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HART BOARD DEBATES SCHOOL RENOVATIONS.

Byline: CONNIE LLANOS

Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA -- The Hart board gave the OK for architects to start preparing more detailed renovation plans for the district's three oldest campuses but disagreed on how much work needs to be done.

At a school board meeting Wednesday night, Rob Gapper, the Hart Union High School District's chief operations officer, unveiled a $20 million renovation plan for Hart High and Placerita and Sierra Vista junior highs.

The plan marks the first of three phases of renovations. At Hart High, the plan calls for new ceilings, floors, paint, lighting, furniture and electrical outlets in 46 classrooms. Science labs and restrooms also would be modernized.

But critics, including some board members, called the plans insufficient and even unsafe, saying if the buildings are preserved rather than replaced they won't be brought up to the current fire-safety standard.

"We need to do it right, and we need to do it right the first time," board member Steve Sturgeon said.

The district is hoping to preserve Hart's buildings -- some of them 60 years old.

"You can't buy those buildings anymore; everything now is stucco boxes," Gapper said.

Gapper said the $20 million renovation plans allow for the most upgrades in the shortest amount of time -- for the least amount of money.

But keeping the older buildings also spares the Hart district the multimillion-dollar expense of updating fire and safety features to the latest standards on the three campuses -- something teachers, parents and students called unacceptable.

Hart senior Michael Ewart said he was shocked to learn classrooms at his school don't meet fire codes, including ceiling sprinklers required in new construction.

Ewart was seriously burned in December 2005 when his family home caught fire. He has since started the nonprofit Michael Ewart Smoke Alarm Education Foundation to promote fire safety.

"Accidents can and do happen," Ewart said.

Hart board member Gloria Mercado presented a plan to install a modular building to house science labs rather than try to repair decaying facilities. She suggested seeking state grants to cover the $7 million cost of a 12-classroom modular.

"I feel like this is what we're willing to settle for ... it's just not enough," Mercado said.

Science teacher John Ahart said he had no problems with keeping the older buildings as long as the district guaranteed his students more space and safety.

"I understand you don't get this quality of building any more, so if you can tear down walls to give us bigger lab rooms, than I am OK with that," Ahart said. "But there are no fire sprinklers in this plan -- the safety of my students has to come first."

Hart Superintendent Jaime Castellanos said hiring the architects was a good move. The team will engage teachers in the design process.

"Maybe we can do a hybrid plan," Castellanos said.

Shirley Pundt, a Hart Regiment Alumni Association member pushing for repairs at Hart, said she was happy to see the plan.

"It's a great first step," Pundt said. "But I don't want to see a Band-Aid solution that when we get additional funding we will have to undo."

In the district's first phase of remodeling, Hart's band room would get a full schedule of repairs and replacements -- but Pundt said the crowded room would not be enlarged.

"That building is built for 60 students; next year we will have 120 students in the band," she said.

"The board is looking into short-term solutions, but that is now what's critical. What is critical is doing what's right by the students, teachers and the community."
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 20, 2007
Words:593
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