In December of 2016, the VPE Home & School League met with the OUSD administration regarding the status of the old school buildings sitting in the middle of our campus. We believe these buildings are a negative impact on both the safety and aesthetics of our campus. We have urged the District to follow through with demolition plans that they wrote up in a 2008 Environmental Impact Report.
On March 9th, 2017 the OUSD Board of Trustees will vote on the demolition plans to remove these old buildings. We are urging all OUSD Board members to vote YES!
Because there are many questions about these old buildings, here is some background information...
Click each image to enlarge
What is so historic about the old school buildings?
They are the oldest public buildings in the City of Villa Park. The larger building was built in 1919 and the smaller building in 1926. To meet the growing needs of the surrounding community, Villa Park Elementary expanded all around the historic buildings in the 1950's with many of the classrooms we still utilize today. In the early 1970s, the buildings were determined to be unsafe for students, due to seismic issues. At that time, the old school was used for storage and a few offices. Eventually, the building was completely vacated and left in its current dilapidated condition.
The buildings are historically significant primarily because of their architectural design. The facade of the main building is described as “an elegant example of Beaux Arts Classicism, an eclectic style that began to appear in Southern California in the late 1890s.” In 2003 the Villa Park School was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Why not renovate the buildings?
In 1999 the Villa Park Elementary School Restoration Corporation (VPESRC) was formed with the expressed purpose to raise funds to renovate the old VP School building. At that time, the VPESRC had estimated the cost of restoration to be $2,000,000. The VPESRC had submitted a plan to the OUSD to restore the buildings within 4 years and the funds to come from gifts and fundraising efforts. The organization struggled to raise anything near the needed funds for restoration. The OUSD was very accommodating with deadline extensions, but what was originally going to be a 4-year project was halted by the OUSD after 12 years. In 2008, the VPESRC had not even raised 5% of the estimated 1999 cost to restore the buildings. In 2008, the OUSD estimated the cost of building restoration to be $3,500,000. With just a modest 5% increase in construction costs since then, those historic school buildings today would likely cost more than $5,000,000 to be restored. Unfortunately, these buildings are just too costly to renovate.
What has the OUSD done about these buildings?
In 2006 the OUSD put forth an effort to study and then establish demolition plans for the historic buildings. The California law requires an official Environmental Impact Report (EIR) which was done in early 2008. The report is in two large PDF documents, over 700 pages. That report, supported by the District administration recommended the historic Villa Park School buildings be demolished. Additionally, some mitigation measures were also included in the EIR to help preserve some history when the buildings are gone. On June 5th, 2008 the OUSD School Board members voted to certify the EIR. Then in a subsequent vote to approve actual building demolition, they delayed their voting. Since that June 5th, 2008 Board meeting, this matter has not been officially addressed by the OUSD.
Why tear down the building now?
All the safety dangers that are detailed in the OUSD 2008 Environmental Impact Report are even more relevant today! Ten years ago, the OUSD hired a national engineering firm to perform a detailed structural investigation of the buildings. Among their many findings, they expressed that the old school was not only unsafe for internal occupants but also hazardous for any passerby. These buildings were deemed unsafe for students 45 years ago, yet they still sit in place without any maintenance. There has been no weatherproofing, shoring up roof tiles or added bracing of the internal structure. They are the tallest buildings on our campus, in the middle of our campus, and every school day our children walk within a few feet of them.
If the buildings are removed, what will go in their place?
According to the OUSD's 2008 plan... "The buildings would not be replaced. The space that they presently occupy would be landscaped with natural turf, and ornamental vegetation. The project site would be an extension of an existing courtyard and would be maintained by the District. The expanded courtyard would be of similar design to that of the existing courtyard." Our annual events like Back-To-School Night, Open House, Holiday Concert, Lip Sync and Graduation would be more accommodating to the VPE parents and grandparents with an expanded courtyard!
If the buildings are torn down, what would be saved?
As part of the proposed 2008 demolition plan, they also had an extensive mitigation plan as well. At the OUSD expense, they will take extensive photographs and document the historic buildings. They will share these materials with 5 local libraries and archives. An oral history program on the history of the Villa Park School will be prepared and a memory book will be created. Historic items like the school bell and chalkboards will be salvaged and offered for display. Additionally, both a qualified archaeologist and paleontologist are to be retained to ensure that if anything new is discovered during the demolition, they will be properly handled.
The Home and School League will continue to keep the parents of VPE posted to what we hear back from the OUSD regarding this matter. While we go forward with this complicated process, it is important that all parents voices are heard. Please send your comments, safety concerns, questions or opposite opinions by email to Mark D. Kuli - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Villa Park Elementary l 10551 Center Drive, Villa Park, CA 92861 l 714-997-6281