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How that $59 million bond was spent for Hermosa Beach school construction projects

The Beach Reporter logo The Beach Reporter 9/22/2022 Michael Hixon, The Beach Reporter, Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Sep. 22—When Hermosa Beach voters weighed Measure S in 2016, it was the third time in a decade they had to decide whether to put tax money behind upgrading the city's aging schools.

The first two times failed. But Measure S passed with 59% of the vote while needing 55% to pass.

It was a six-year journey, but when Hermosa View School opened its doors for the academic year on Sept. 6, it marked the culmination of a $59 million general obligation bond that transformed that campus, upgraded Hermosa Valley and helped build Hermosa Vista from the ground up.

"The residents rallied," Hermosa Beach City School District Superintendent Jason Johnson said about the measure passing in 2016.

Hermosa Vista, built after razing the historic North School, cost $29 million; Hermosa View came in at $23.3 million and upgrades to Hermosa Valley cost $2 million, Johnson said.

The superintendent credited residents, school board members, teachers and parents with assisting in getting the projects through COVID-19 and other obstacles. General contractor, Erickson Hall Construction Company, was also instrumental, he said.

"Erickson Hall had to be really creative to get it done," Johnson said.

COVID-19, asbestos and other issues slowed, but did not halt, the constructions projects, Johnson said.

The three projects also caused shuffling among the grade levels, with students in transitional kindergarten through second-grade attending Hermosa View, third- and fourth-graders attending Hermosa Vista, and fifth- to eighth-grade students attend Hermosa Valley.

A main focal point of the project was demolishing North School, which originally opened as an elementary school in 1924. The school was demolished in 2019 and reopened as Hermosa Vista in Spring 2021 after the pandemic caused supply shortages, including for concrete.

Hermosa View's $23.3 million construction costs, which came in under budget, was a product of value engineering that allowed the district to reduce the guaranteed maximum price the contractor could charge, Johnson said.

The two-story building features classrooms, administrative offices, a multipurpose building, an asphalt playground and a turf field. Being environmentally friendly was a priority, Johnson said. Solar panels were installed to help it generate as much energy as it uses.

A South Bay native, Johnson became superintendent in summer 2020, replacing retiring Superintendent Pat Escalante. He began his job shortly after the groundbreaking at Hermosa Vista that spring.

"This is when COVID was still really, really scary, because of the unknown," Johnson said.

Besides COVID-19, the construction of Hermosa Vista faced some other hurdles, Johnson said, including challenging soil and the discovery of asbestos-coated pipes underground at what was the decades-old North School site.

Neighbors of Hermosa Vista expressed concern about a number of issues as well, including traffic, before construction began. But, Johnson said, the school has the best traffic flow of any campus in the South Bay.

That was a product of the community and the Neighborhood Traffic Management Plan that was developed between the school district and the city, Johnson said.

"They created design that was really creative," Johnson said.

With a projected $23.3 million price tag, Hermosa View was challenging but had fewer hurdles than Hermosa Vista, Johnson said.

Hermosa View was built on a hill — hence the name — in 1949, so there were several grades to the construction.

The new construction at Hermosa View included a two-story administration building that features offices and a library on the first floor and classrooms on the second floor.

Two kindergarten buildings replaced temporary bungalows, allowing for larger classroom sizes. Also added was an interior courtyard and playground.

The Hermosa View project was expected to be completed in July, but faced a raw materials shortage. School opened on time with construction complete, but landscaping was not finished because of the water moratorium in Los Angeles County.

Hillary Overbeck is the principal at Hermosa View, as well as at Hermosa Vista, but taught kindergarten at the former in 2014. Overbeck was assistant principal at Hermosa Valley while Hermosa Vista was under construction.

"It's fun to come back in a new capacity," Overbeck said, adding the "facilities are so much better now."

Originally opened in 1949, Hermosa Valley went through more than $2 million in various upgrades in 2018-19.

The upgrades included increased security by adding a wrought iron fence around the school and a more secure entrance for the Administration Building. There were also upgrades the the school's roofing and in technology infrastructure focusing on high-speed internet.

When Measure Q failed in 2014, six years after the failure of Measure E, parent Heather Baboolal wanted to stay actively involved, so she helped advocate for Measure S and then joined the Citizens' Oversight Committee when it was formed following the measure's 2016 passage.

"My son was in kindergarten when this process started and he's already out of the system; we're talking 10 years later," said Baboolal, who has two children who have attended Hermosa schools. "So it's been a long journey."

The oversight committee's term is set to end in December, according to the districts website, but Baboolal said she does not think that will be the case. The financials are yet to be audited, she said, so that could require the committee to work through 2023.

"Just because the projects are done," Baboolal said, "doesn't mean that the financials are all the way through the process."

Johnson, for his part, said that throughout COVID-19 and construction, teachers, parents and students have weathered challenging times. And the hard work teachers and parents put in during the pandemic, he said, is evident in the district's enrollment and recent test scores.

When Measure S passed in 2016, the HBCSD had 1,330 students. There were 1,190 enrolled in 2020 during the COVID-19 low point. The district is now at 1,300 for the 2022-23 school year.

"That is an 8% enrollment gain over that period of time," Johnson said, "when most districts are shedding."

Sudents also last took the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress during the 2018-19 school year.

When students recently took the test for the first time in two years — after being canceled because of the pandemic — the test scores were "exactly the same," Johnson said.

"I know there's been learning loss, I know students have been impacted," he said, "but statistically, we are picking up pretty much right where we left off.

"We really wanted to make a point," he added, "that COVID wasn't going to slow down what we were doing."

A ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the reopening of Hermosa View was cancelled recently because of possible inclement weather, but is expected to be rescheduled for sometime in October, Johnson said.

(c)2022 The Beach Reporter, Manhattan Beach, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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