Historic elementary school is a safety hazard
By Mark Kuli, president, VPE Dad’s Club
The centerpiece of Villa Park Elementary is an abandoned 100-year-old schoolhouse, unused for 45 years. While of historic value the two long-neglected structures were deemed seismically unsafe in the early 1970s, and virtually left alone since then.
In 1999, lead paint was found peeling from the outside. Orange Unified School District sandblasted the exterior and put up a fence. There has been no attention paid to the significant cracks thoughout the walls, or bracing added to the decomposing internal structures. Over 10 years ago, engineering professionals advised that the buildings were structurally unsound not only for occupants, but for passersby.
Today those “passersby” are the 600-plus students at Villa Park Elementary. They are the tallest buildings, located in the middle of the campus, and children walk within few feet of them. History has become a safety hazard.
About 20 years ago, several members of the Villa Park community banded together with the hope of restoring the old schoolhouse. The Villa Park Elementary School Restoration Corporation was formed in 1999 to raise funds.
Unfortunately, the cost of restoration was just too high and fundraising efforts were never successful. In 2008, the estimated restoration cost was approximately $3.5 million. At that time, the restoration movement had not raised even three percent of the costs needed to restore the building.
OUSD came to the conclusion that demolition was the most prudent outcome. The district spent considerable money and effort on an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) wherein all community opinions were carefully considered. Part of the proposed plan included extensive mitigation measures to help preserve some Villa Park School history.
On June 5, 2008 the OUSD Board of Education certified the EIR. However, in a subsequent vote, it held off on the demolition approval because of significant pressure from the restoration advocates to give the fundraising one more chance.
For the past eight years, there has been zero action from OUSD, and zero fundraising efforts from the restoration advocates. These buildings remain rotting in the middle of the campus for no good reason. In the name of safety, it is time for the community to unite on this matter and remove the buildings.
The historic buildings in the center of the Villa Park Elementary School campus are not only an eyesore, but also unsafe.