Editorial: Pass Measure BH, retain optimism, skepticism

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You’d be hard pressed to find anybody who’s fond of the current state of our half-constructed campus. Our once landmark entrance remains a hollowed shell. The “village” of jaunty portables and hardy concrete has lost its luster for even the most ardent optimists. The taste of stale promises. Normans are longing for a return to normalcy.

In November of 2008, Beverly Hills was sold a bill of goods: a bigger, brighter BHUSD for a bargain price of $334 million to complete the first phase of construction. Ten years later and we are still waiting for the promises of the Measure E bond to be fulfilled, with our enthusiasm for a “cutting edge” campus severely dulled.

Based on Measure E’s accepted final master plan, we expected a completed Horace Mann site in 2016, a completely renovated Hawthorne in March 2018 and a brand new Beverly by 2021. So far, out of all the promises of Measure E, only Horace Mann has been completed–two years behind schedule.

On June 5, the district will make another swipe at our collective coffers, in the guise of the patriotically-named Measure BH, which proposes $385 million to finish and begin construction projects around the district, including a complete renovation of Hawthorne’s auditorium, parts of El Rodeo, minor site improvements at Beverly Vista and the remaining buildings at Beverly.

The previous iteration of this bond, 2016’s Measure Y, did not receive the 67 percent necessary to pass, due to a lack of consensus or confidence within the Board of Education itself.

We, the Editorial Board, stand behind the renewed effort to bring BHUSD to the 21st century.

There is a constant cry in the community that the district is not what it used to be. Many of our students don’t know a time before we had to navigate a campus covered in caution tape, and those of us who do can’t possibly hope to relive the nostalgia before we graduate.

It won’t be quick or easy, not even $400 million can buy a silver bullet, but passing this bond is a necessary step to bring our schools to the height their students deserve.

There is much to be concerned about, to be sure. Our district’s track record with construction has been less than stellar–marred by cost overruns, bureaucratic miscalculations, seemingly incompetent contractors, constant “complications” and political infighting.

Measure E’s failures lay at the feet of a decade’s worth of district leadership, but now we, students, community members and voters, are assuming the risk–if we are fooled again, the shame will be on us.

With skyrocketing construction costs, budgetary belt-tightening and our collective attention being pulled every which way in a district juggling countless issues, one must wonder, Will we ever finish the ambitious project we set out to do?

We respond with a cautiously optimistic Yes.

We have faith in our new district leadership to dig us out of a hole 10 years in the making. Though the administration’s tenure has been young, we believe it to be as competent as ever.

Measure Y’s curse, the lack of a supermajority vote by the board and the need of a two-thirds vote, has been avoided by this new measure, and so too hopefully will its fate. With a unanimous vote by the board to place the bond on the ballot, there is finally a semblance of unity at the top.

An assembly of inhouse industry experts, led by Director of Facilities Don Blake, who emerged out of retirement to answer the call of duty, has taken the helm.

We hope the Board of Education has learned from its past mistakes. In one meeting, board president Lisa Korbatov apologized for her and her colleague’s shortcomings and vowed to use their hard-earned experience to propel the project forward.

For those who are still unconvinced that their tax dollars will be used appropriately, two board seats are up for election in November, and more are soon to follow. If they wish to seek a fresh infusion of accountability, they can cast a vote to bring in new ideas.

Needless to say, Highlights will continue our commitment of playing watchdog for the community, and will do our best to ensure a steady, free flow of information about the project.  

Our historic high school building (B1 and B2) serves as a cynical metaphor for the condition of the district as a whole. It remains a disfigured husk waiting to be filled, its structural support stilts are all that are keeping it from falling over. It serves as a reminder to the community of former glories, just as students remember how central the buildings were to the Beverly culture. Until positive progress can be seen in construction, our district is dangerously close to being crushed by the weight of its own ambition.

We are optimistic that the passage of this bond will be a turning point in BHUSD’s checkered construction history. While the failures of the past hang heavy above our heads, our confidence that Measure BH will bring us a step closer to a campus and district that we can all be proud of drives us forward.

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