Updated: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 – 10:35 PM
Following Wednesday evening’s emergency Board of Education meeting, El Rodeo is expected to remain closed at least until Monday. Superintendent Steve Kessler made the decision to close down the K-8 school early this morning after he was informed that the cupola atop El Rodeo’s tower had shifted and risked falling down in the event of even a minor earthquake. After Kessler consulted with several district officials, at 8:15 a.m. this morning, El Rodeo Principal Kevin Allen emailed families that the school was being closed immediately.
At Wednesday’s meeting, which was attended by more than 50 people who crowded into the district office board room, multiple parents voiced concern with the way communication was coming from the district in addition to questioning just how safe their children are in the school.
“The safety of our kids and staff is always number one,” Kessler told the Courier following Allen’s email. “We will not let anybody go back in there until things are 100 percent safe.”
In conjunction with Wednesday evening’s approval by the board to take action to remedy the immediate problem, Kessler predicted that the school would reopen on Monday.
Interim BHUSD facilities chief Tim Buresh said that subsequent to the Board approving a contract authorizing two cranes be brought in to remove the cupola, which he estimated to weigh between 4,000 to 10,000 pounds, the cupola would be taken down on Friday. After that, he said that on Saturday the bell tower would be encased in protective scaffolding to prevent people from being harmed in the event that the “dangerous” and “very under-reinforced” tower were to collapse.
Since identifying the weak masonry paneling in 2008, Buresh said that he has had “serious reservations” about the “very, very weak” tower. However, it wasn’t until this week that he knew for certain just how badly affixed the 1,000-pound panels were to the tower; he described them as being held in place by “gravity and mortar”.
The discovery of just how perilous the situation is at El Rodeo resulted from Buresh having instructed his team to fly a drone up to the top of the building and investigate the tower last Thursday, concurrent with the drone photographing the now-open trenches at the school. The district is now in the process of creating a comprehensive photographic record of the trenches that Buresh said documents no-active faulting at the school. A visit from a geologist from the Division of the State Architect (DSA) to verify the lack of active faults on the campus will happen once the trenches dry out following this week’s rain. The work is being done in anticipation of modernizing the school.
On Monday, a team of architects and engineers concurred that the photographs demonstrated major structural weaknesses in the tower, in addition to the cupola’s tenuous placement. However, Buresh said it was crucial that the team “dotted all I’s and crossed all T’s” in order to make certain that it would in no way appear that they were “crying wolf.”
“Almost any kind of movement could cause them to come down,” he said, adding that once the cupola dropped from the roof, it could potentially crash through a classroom below.
Buresh said because the building has not been red-tagged by DSA, the district does not need the state’s approval to take immediate action.
Kessler said that only students in grades 4 and 5 would need to make up any instructional time lost and that Allen would work to weave the equivalent of three days worth of instructional minutes into the remainder of the school year.
Tomorrow evening at 9 p.m., the Board will vote on moving students from classrooms to portables at El Rodeo and Beverly Hills High School.