$40 million approved for long-awaited Buena Vista Horace Mann renovation

‘I’m hoping there’s a fast process to this since SFUSD has a history of moving things slowly’

After years of complaints about dilapidated conditions at Buena Vista Horace Mann school, funds have been approved to renovate the historic K-8 Mission District institution.

The San Francisco school board on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution dedicating $40 million of remaining funds from a 2016 bond measure to modernize the nearly century-old building. Another $7 million is on reserve from another San Francisco Unified School District project should the construction estimates come in higher.

District staff will begin a design process and present it to the school board within six months or by the end of the school year.

“I’m just so grateful to the BVHM community for organizing and standing up for justice, not just for their own children but also setting a standard that all kids in SFUSD deserve safe, healthy and dignified schools,” said school board member Matt Alexander, who proposed increased funds for the school, in a text.

To staff and students at the predominantly Latino school, it’s been a long time coming. Issues plaguing the school include rats and their droppings, falling ceiling tiles and tight spacing leading to arrangements like photocopy machines in the staff bathroom. A student on Tuesday night told school board members of a time when cockroaches emerged, leading to a panic in the classroom.

A student got an electrical shock from an outlet in May and in August a gas leak in the school wasn’t addressed for days, leading to renewed demands for repairs.

Five formal complaints about BVHM have been filed since 2016, according to SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick. What’s known as Williams Complaints are filed out of concern that a school has hazardous facilities or insufficient instructional materials.

“It’s about time,” said Fatima Ticas, parent of a BVHM student who lives in the immediate area. “We’ve been waiting for this for so long and I’m hoping there’s a fast process to this since SFUSD has a history of moving things slowly. Brown and Black kids are always put on the back burner and SFUSD didn’t think parents and teachers would join together to demand this, not simply ask any more.”

A solution to how to get BVHM the funds needed for renovation given a limited pot lacked consensus earlier this month. Alexander’s proposal to dedicate $55 million to the school would have removed $15 million in funding for a coveted new elementary school underway in the booming neighborhood of Mission Bay. An earlier vote to reallocate funds was postponed after district counsel sought time to review the proposals and ensure it fulfilled promises made under the 2016 bond measure. The number was lowered after clarification from staff about the possible cost of such a project, pegged on Tuesday at $25 million to $40 million with the caveat that BVHM’s age and unique structure could increase costs.

Funds from the 2016 bond measure reserved $100 million for a new district arts center, which is not yet designed and is now expected to cost nearly $400 million. Staff earlier this month recommended reallocating $15 million for BVHM and other projects, retaining $25 million for the arts center. But the approved legislation eliminates funding for the center; however, it included language recommitting to the project by directing the superintendent to plan a realistic timeline and make it a “top priority” for the next bond measure.

“The (bond) document clearly states that we have listed more projects eligible for funding that we may be able to deliver, that the district can change priorities based on a changing understanding of our needs,” said Dawn Kamalanathan, SFUSD chief facilities officer, at the school board meeting on Tuesday. “There were tradeoffs made, as again happens in a bond program.”

Funding remains intact for projects around a facility improvement plan for schools in the southeast of San Francisco, green schoolyards, securing schools in case of an active shooter situation and portable air cleaners. However, only half of the $14 million dedicated to green schoolyards may be spent until the BVHM design and estimate is presented as a failsafe should the renovation cost more than $40 million. The school board would need to come back for a vote on the renovation.

BVHM parents and staff also demanded an independent inspection. Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission District and held a hearing on the school’s conditions, introduced legislation last week to reallocate city funds for the Department of Public Works to conduct the inspection. A hearing is scheduled on Monday, Ronen said.

“I’m elated that justice is finally occurring at this school that is made up of primarily Latinx and African American and other students of color,” Ronen told the Examiner. “That they were forced to learn in these conditions for so long is an embarrassment and we cannot do right by these students fast enough. I feel like (SFUSD) is now giving the school the attention it deserves.”

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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