The San Francisco Board of Education unanimously approved a plan for spending the remaining $100 million in funding from a 2016 bond approved by San Francisco voters, with the largest allocation of $40 million going towards the renovation of the Buena Vista Horace Mann school (BVHM) in the Mission district.
The modernization of BVHM will include construction, reconstruction and improvement according to a Nov. 3 press release from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). The resolution to allocate the $40 million was authored by Commissioner Matt Alexander, who has been working closely with staff and parents at the school to get the urgent repair needs met.
Commissioner Alexander’s amendment requires staff to return to the Board of Education within six months to present recommendations on the scope, budget, and schedule for the project.
“It’s been such an honor working with the BVHM community on making this happen,” Commissioner Alexander said. “It’s been years.”
District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen acknowledged Alexander at an Oct. 8 special meeting. “Alexander is the only person acting with urgency and concern about this low-income school, and I want to put that on the record,” Ronen said.
Alexander credited the grassroots organizing among parents and staff at BVHM for securing attention to the ongoing issues in the building, which include gas leaks, rodent infestation, faulty electricity, temperature control issues, falling ceiling tiles, cracked pavement, exposed pipes and wiring, and bathrooms in poor repair.
“We want to build on that grassroots organizing to have a deeply participatory, community-based process for the repairs,” Alexander said.
Madelin Cabrera, who has a 2nd and 3rd grader at school, said the most pressing issues were the high temperatures in the building and concerns about the walls and roof. “Kids are afraid of the ceiling falling on them,” Cabrera said.
“They need to redo the bathrooms,” said Javier Gutierrez, an 8th grade student at the school. “We need soap in the bathrooms and the walls are coming apart.” Gutierrez was also hopeful for a soccer field and new playground.
Jorge Espinoza, parent of a 5th grader and a kindergartner at BVHM, noted security concerns as well as repair issues. “The school is short staffed in terms of security, and students have left the building without an adult. One was wandering the streets but fortunately another BVHM parent recognized him and brought him back,” Espinoza said.
Espinoza cited clogged water fountains, bathrooms in poor condition, and issues with the electricity and gas as additional concerns. His children have also seen rats in the building.
The first step in BVHM’s renovation process will be to identify the most immediate repair needs, which will be done by an independent inspection by the Department of Public Works (DPW). Supervisor Ronen redirected $140,000 in funds from other infrastructure projects to finance the independent inspection.
“It’s important to have a fully independent inspection process because the school community has lost trust in SFUSD with all the broken promises,” Alexander said.
Despite the many documented issues in the building, an August 2021 inspection of BVHM coordinated by SFUSD designated the school’s condition as “exemplary,” with the only comments on the inspection report about lights out of order and a missing door magnet.
George Kalligeros of Elmast Construction and Inspection Services was hired by SFUSD to do the inspection. Kalligeros secured a $38,750 contract to inspect schools across the district for $125 an hour.
“I examined the building structurally, not for painting and the like,” Kalligeros said when asked about the disparity. “I was making sure the bathrooms, the water fountains were okay and working for students,” he continued.
Yet according to students and faculty — and as documented by plentiful photographic evidence in the Oct. 8 special meeting called by Supervisor Ronen — both the bathrooms and water fountains are in poor repair. The entire school was evacuated on Aug. 27 for a gas leak, despite the “gas leaks” category being marked as “good” in the August inspection report.
After the independent inspection comes the design phase, which should take about six months. The process will produce a design as well as a cost estimate for the project. If the budget runs over the $40 million, additional monies could be secured from the $15 million of the bond budgeted for greenspaces.
The board would need to have a vote to reallocate those funds, but it “would be helpful for us to not have a hard cap on the $40 million,” Alexander said.