Veronica Escobedo is the sole breadwinner of a family with several kids attending Lynwood Unified School District schools. 

Plans to send her son to high school used to be straightforward. Escobedo lives one block away from the Imperial High Campus school, where her son would have attended. 

But that’s now impossible.

The closure of Lynwood High School on the Imperial Campus following a ceiling collapse means she can’t drive her son to school before classes start at 8:30 a.m. 

Escobedo is not alone. Parents with children enrolled at Lynwood High Bullis campus are struggling to transport their kids to school. At the same time, the Lynwood Unified School District is struggling to tackle the financial and logistical effects the closure of the school had on the community and address parents’ concerns about seeking transportation for kids and improvements on street safety. 

LUSD briefly operated a shuttle to transport students from the closed school to Lynwood High’s Bullis campus, but the shuttle service stopped at the end of the school year 2021-2022. And her son must make a trek to a new school 1.5 miles south of the shuttered campus.

Today, the 11th-grade student often walks the distance along with dozens of kids living north of the I-105 Glenn Anderson freeway, Escobedo said, dodging traffic and other dangers posed by the urban sprawl. 

“City buses don’t run to get the kids to start classes on time,” Escobedo complained.  

Cars driven by parents of kids enrolled at Lynwood High’s Bullis Road campus clutter the street Wednesday, March 27 as kids are about to exit at the end of the school day. Several parents are concerned about street insecurity involving reckless drivers, cars with loud music, vehicles spinning tires, wandering people, and occasional street shootings. Alfredo Santana / LA Public Press.

Soffits collapse condemned building for demolition

Unfit for repairs under state laws, the three-story G Building at the Imperial campus located at 4050 E. Imperial Highway was recently demolished to make room for a new facility and additional improvements at the tune of $250 million furnished by the state. 

With only 20 years of service, the facility hosted an array of classrooms, faculty offices, labs, janitorial rooms, and a myriad of air conditioning and electrical networks before the soffits fell to the ground, smashing two cars but causing no injuries.

At the time of the incident, the school was empty amid state and county-mandated closures to curb Covid-19 transmissions.

Now, the LUSD expects a state-of-the-art building to be finished by 2027, and to fully reopen the campus to serve students the same year.  

LUSD Superintendent Gudiel Crosthwaite said district staff regularly visits school sites and surveys facilities for potential safety issues, but employees noted no structural damages before the G-Building’s soffits crumbled nearly four years ago.

“After the collapse, we conducted an exploratory tour. It was noted that several classroom walls lacked bolts or pins to secure them to metal beams and were non-welded,” said Crosthwaite in an email. “A portion of the soffit fell from the ceilings 20 feet above ground level because it was put in place with glue and shot pins, when school building codes called for high-grade screws, meshed wire, and high-grade retainers to hold them up.”

The soffits’ failure triggered an investigation conducted by an independent construction firm. 

Peta Structure Engineers concluded in 2021 that the facility was “poorly built,” and endangered both students and staff. 

Other structures had loose and crumbling ceilings but did not require demolition.

Soon after the campus was declared unsafe, the LUSD’s Board of Education approved motions to renovate Lynwood Middle School on Bullis Road, and equip it with bungalows, labs, and other facilities to make room for the high school pupils, and renamed it Lynwood High. 

Irma Arroyo, vice president of the LUSD Parents Committee, said the district acted correctly shifting students and staff to other campuses in response to the structural emergency at Imperial campus.

Arroyo, who has a grandchild enrolled in 11th grade at Lynwood High Bullis campus, said parents and city administrators should work together on improvements to street and traffic safety.

She blamed parents for double parking to pick up their kids when classes were dismissed, which she says make the streets unsafe.              

“Many parents complain about problems that in reality are not the district’s responsibility to solve,” said Arroyo, a parent representative at LUSD since 1984. “If the city does not add police, it’s hard. When kids go home, and walk on the curb, much of the safety responsibility falls on the parents.”  

Bus passes to students far from their schools next school year

In response to the parents’ concerns, Crosthwaite said families experiencing challenges can contact the Community Schools Case Manager and receive tokens to use the city’s trolley service if they are far from their school. 

The shuttle service experienced low ridership, with less than 10 students daily, he said. The following year the district allowed students to attend Firebaugh High School instead, making the route closer to their home school. 

“Next year, we will offer bus passes to all LUSD students for the 2024-2025 school year [so] that they can use on the trolley as well,” said Crosthwaite. 

Two banners advertising reconstruction of the demolished G-Building hang from a fence near the main entrance at the shuttered Lynwood High School Imperial campus located at 4050 E. Imperial Highway. Alfredo Santana / LA Public Press.

On the security front, LUSD said in a statement that ensuring the safety and well-being of students is the district’s top priority, and campus safety regularly patrols schools “specifically before and after school hours, while students are walking to and from school” to ensure safety off campus, and safety protocols, are in place to safeguard students.

Miriam Mendez, another parent with a kid enrolled at Lynwood High’s Bullis campus, said her son Jesse had the intent to enroll at the Imperial campus school, but the school was already closed in 2023. 

Mendez believes issues such as people wandering near the school during class and cars pumping loud music or screeching tires as the students head home are more prevalent at the current campus, and threaten Jesse, a special education student, and other kids.

The district said they collaborate with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the city of Lynwood, and families to address concerns over public safety. 

“We are committed to fostering a safe and nurturing environment where every student can learn and thrive,” the district said in a statement to LA Public Press.

Fixing construction woes

California laws mandate that if the costs of restoring a school structure are more than half of building it anew, the damaged facility should be leveled. 

Initially, LUSD planned to repair the building, but lacked the funds to embark on an expensive rebuild endeavor first estimated at $66 million. Thus, the district’s first financing formula was to match a qualifying state grant with local funds that required the district to fork out millions in bonds.

Facing a funding and facilities quagmire, school district leaders invited former Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who represents Lynwood in Sacramento, and State Senator Lena Gonzalez to tour the ailing campus.

Meanwhile, Crosthwaite and LUSD Board of Education members pledged to pursue legal action against Keller Construction, the contractor that installed the infamous soffits.

Keller Construction filed for bankruptcy shortly after it finished work at Lynwood High School in 2000.

Also, LUSD met with legislators in Sacramento to advocate for funds for the project and discussed the financial support needed to start renovations. 

After rounds of negotiations, LUSD and the area’s elected leaders announced a $250 million grant to rebuild the facility at a press conference in 2022. 

LUSD estimates it will need about $400 million to “completely renovate the campus,” and support interim projects to house students in classrooms. (For context, the entire LUSD budget in 2022-2023 was $278 million). 

Architectural features of the new central building will include a culinary arts kitchen, medical and art rooms with special equipment, plus 70 classrooms and science, technology, engineering, and math labs. 

Also, the softball and baseball fields will be redesigned and rebuilt to enhance athletic and physical activities. 

“It is unfortunate what happened, but it is an exciting [time] for the community,” said LUSD Facilities Project Manager Jorge Ramirez in February, as crews controlled a Caterpillar with a giant scoop shredding the building’s skeleton. “I think it’s very exciting to bring this type of modern project to the community.” 

While it may be viewed as an opportunity for the community by administrators, Escobedo said she still has to deal with the material reality.

“I struggle to get him to school safely,” said Escobedo outside the Bullis campus while making an afternoon round on her day off to pick up her son. “I ask friends or relatives for a ride to take him to school.”

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