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La Puerta demolition paves way for sale

Liability concerns resulted in demolition of the former La Puerta Intermediate School site, according to the Claremont Unified School District.

Lisa Shoemaker, assistant superintendent of business services, explained that the former school site, which was declared surplus property in early 2013, has not yet sold.

“It was decaying so rapidly,” Ms. Shoemaker said. “The building was shot and had become a haven for graffiti. We were concerned about kids climbing around there, fires and loitering.”

CUSD has twice come close to selling the property. In 2013, Brandywine Home developers offered $18.9 million and, in 2015, Claremont Lincoln University offered $14.3 million, but escrow fell through on both deals. Residents near the Forbes Avenue property raised concerns at public meetings over both proposed uses.

In anticipation of a successful sale, CUSD filed for a state waiver in October, which allows for a sealed bid process where the district can entertain only the offers it feels will result in an actual sale.

“The state has a prescribed process that the district must go through to sell property. We’ve done that twice and it’s fallen through,” Ms. Shoemaker explained. “The state had no issue with approving the waiver.”

The power to negotiate a deal will help tremendously, Ms. Shoemaker said. Previously the district was restricted by the state to a blind bid process, where the purchaser kept CUSD unaware of the proposed use of the site.

The school district currently has a broker “reaching out to folks,” she said, with the hope that the property sale will be complete in the next few years.

The demolition process was launched with a mid-February mandatory pre-bid conference, followed by an open request for bids on February 28. Demolition bids came in between $200,000 to $300,000; however, Ms. Shoemaker said the actual cost was much lower.

“The first cost estimate was around $80,000,” she said. “But there were some asbestos issues that will bring it to the $100,000 range.”

As was reported in a July 2004 COURIER, a low concentration of arsenic was detected under the soil at La Puerta. At that time, CUSD had intended to use the building for a future elementary school, but plans were scrapped when higher-than-expected bids for projects came in during the spending of Measure Y dollars. The arsenic, which apparently developed some time in the 1960s when orchards covered the area, was removed in July 2004 in an area spanning 50 feet wide, 70 feet long and about three feet deep.

Cost for demolition will be paid out of previous surplus property sales, such as the former district office property on Mountain and Base Line Road.

Crews worked throughout last weekend and by Monday were grading and filling in soil hauled from other school sites.

“We had a lot of soil at other schools from some of our modular projects, so we had them use it for fill dirt,” she said. “And we don’t have to pay for someone to haul it away.”

With the site cleared and the state waiver filed, district officials feel they’ve done everything necessary to finally close escrow on the unused property.

“This all gives us a higher likelihood of negotiating a sale,” she said.

—Kathryn Dunn

editor@claremont-courier.com