Neighbors and current tenants of the former Christopher Columbus Elementary School in Daly City oppose a plan to turn the long-closed campus into an 80-unit residential development.
The Jefferson Elementary School District is selling the 13-acre site to Lennar Homes of California for $18 million — money the district says it sorely needs.
“Many of our schools are in great need of modernization and or repair and we certainly don’t have the funds from just the regular allotment of state funds to be able to modernize our schools,” said District Superintendent Bernardo Vidales.
But neighborhood activists are trying to convince district officials to rescind the deal, and have threatened to sue if necessary. The sale agreement could take up to two years to close — time enough, critics say, for the district to rescind the contract.
Complaints range from gripes about parking and traffic to worries about potential asbestos pollution from planned demolition. Meanwhile, two churches and two special-needs schools that currently rent space on campus aren’t thrilled about the sale for other reasons.
Tiles in the 50-year-old building have asbestos beneath them, according to Candice Calero, site supervisor of Community Gate Path — a nonprofit that rents space to teach adults with special needs.
Community activist Pamela DiGiovanni, whose home is less than 50 feet from campus, said that if the school is demolished, 100 percent containment of particulate asbestos would be impossible.
“We are prepared for any litigation if deemed necessary against any party or parties that may cause irreparable harm,” DiGiovanni said. She said she expects an environmental impact report to reflect that.
But district Superintendent Bernardo Vidales said the project will be overseen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to make sure the demolition doesn’t affect the neighborhood.
DiGiovanni also questioned whether selling the school for nonacademic usage violates rules attached to the land.
Vidales said state rules don’t regulate how the land is used, and other requirements were all followed — such as that the land be declared surplus property, that public agencies be notified of the sale and that a resolution be adopted by the school board agreeing to the sale.
DiGiovanni has asked the district to prove it took those actions.
Neighbors Maria Mesias and Maria Gaitan worry that if the district gives up the land, it won’t have anywhere to house a growing student body.
Vidales said existing schools have plenty of room for new classrooms.
Meanwhile, Calero said the closure would be difficult for the 57 mentally handicapped students at the school. “They don’t deal well with change at all,” said Calero, who moved the school into the site just a year ago.
But at least one tenant is prepared for a change. Pastor Peter Bechardo of Harvest Baptist Church, which has been at the site since 2007, is not too worried.
“It’s fine,” Bechardo said. “God will provide for us.”
Neighbors and current site tenants oppose construction on the former school because ...
- It will increase traffic and reduce parking.
- Asbestos from school demolition poses health risks.
- Moving two special-needs schools will be hard on students.
- District will lack space to accommodate growing enrollment.