Renaissance Fights Eviction Action

Renaissance Academy Charter High School had a tumultuous first week following its September 13 opening in Pacific Palisades. Last Thursday, the managing partner of the 881 Alma Real building, where the main campus of the school is located, gave Renaissance notice of termination of the lease effective June 2005. After a two-hour meeting Tuesday night at the school, both sides agreed that nothing has officially changed, though school officials remain hopeful that they will be able to reach a resolution. ‘The purpose of the meeting was to air our differences and search for constructive solutions that will allow Renaissance to continue its mission of educating local students, while addressing the valid concerns of the building owners,’ said RA board member Bill Bryan, who is also the school’s facilities coordinator and an RA parent. Paul McGlothlin, the school’s founding director and principal, as well as board member Scott Adler (an RA parent and the school’s contractor) also attended the meeting with managing partner Greg Schem and Jay Hartman, one of the building’s owners. Each side was represented by counsel. Both Bryan and McGlothlin told the Palisadian-Post Wednesday morning that they felt that the meeting was positive and productive. ‘I think we got a start on solving problems,’ said McGlothlin, who believes the next step is ‘to continue our successful efforts at building and strengthening community relationships.’ McGlothlin also said his biggest concern is ‘for the well-being of the kids’ since ‘this is a critical time in their life, and a small handful of people are forgetting that these are children and need to be treated with respect.’ By ‘a small handful,’ McGlothlin was echoing a letter he wrote to RA students and parents last Friday, within 24 hours of being notified about the lease termination. In the letter, also posted on the school’s Web site (www.rahigh.org), McGlothlin wrote that ‘…a small group of very vocal people object to our presence in the Alma Real building and the surrounding area, and are doing various things to make life hard for us. They have temporarily succeeded in convincing the city that we should only be allowed to use about half of the space we’re paying for, even though we received all of the necessary permits before we opened.’ This week, the school has been holding some of its classes in four rooms on the terrace (lowest) level of the building, which have been designated as classroom space by L.A.’s Department of Building and Safety at this time (a total of seven rooms and a recording studio exist). RA’s other leased space includes Suite 114 on the ground level, where the administrative offices plus resource and conference rooms are located. According to Schem, who notified other tenants in the building of the RA lease termination, the school was ‘using the ground floor as classrooms when it’s not leased for that.’ Schem also said he understood that the number of students occupying the leased space was to be between 30 to 50, though no specific number is documented in the lease. Last Wednesday, the Los Angeles Fire Department dictated that the maximum number of students allowed on the terrace level is 90. Yesterday, Inspector John Dallas, who inspected the building a week ago, told the Post: ‘In the terrace level, we determined that the square footage of the four permitted classrooms plus the library [an additional room] allowed a total occupancy of no more than 90 students.’ His inspection followed a call from a Department of Building and Safety official, who Dallas said ‘had received complaints that there were 200 to 300 students roaming the building. We walked the premises, and we were told that the rooms on the ground floor were being used for counseling but we ascertained that they were being used for more than just counseling. We gave [the school] written notice that these rooms were to be used exclusively for counseling, and specifically for no more than three students [per room].’ Dallas’s supervisor, Captain Scott Miller, told the Post that ’40 to 50 students were observed by the Inspector upon arrival so there was no violation of the temporary Certificate of Occupancy.’ ”The initial TCO, which expired at 5 p.m. last Friday, stated that 98 students were allowed on the terrace level, while the current TCO granted by Building and Safety on Tuesday states that 89 students are allowed on the terrace level. Now, a tiny discrepancy exists between the Fire Department’s order (90) and the current TCO (89). ‘In a show of good faith we’re working with the lower number,’ Bryan said. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Renaissance called Building and Safety, and the school was granted a continued, 30-day TCO that expires October 15. Bryan also said that while Renaissance had intended for students to use some of the ground-floor rooms since that area is nearly half the school’s leased space, they are complying with Building and Safety. The school is also complying with the Fire Department, who ‘issued a notice [last Wednesday] to get a fire alarm system installed within 30 days,’ according to Captain Miller. The building already has sprinklers and the school is in the process of installing a sophisticated fire/life safety system with a strobe unit. ‘We’d like to have the option of remaining here [beyond one year],’ said Bryan, referring to the one-year lease with the option to renew for five years at the end of the first year. ‘We have a substantial dispute and as part of the resolution we hope we can reopen the issue of how long we can stay in this facility.’ Asked about the reason for the lease termination, Bryan blamed the ‘general level of acrimony and mistrust’ as precipitating Schem’s action. He said he was shocked that Schem chose to terminate the lease on ‘the third day of instruction of a new school,’ since ‘it’s not only cavalier but, from a legal standpoint, it’s not smart’we were not dealt with in good faith, or even given a fair and reasonable chance to make good use of the school.’ Bryan and Adler estimated that Renaissance has spent close to $500,000 to convert the leased space into a school, including construction and equipment costs. Since last Friday, RA students have been reporting to various temporary locations for their core classes, which include English, history and science. Some of these locations have included a rented room at the United Methodist Church, Gerry Blanck’s Martial Arts Studio, and three private homes of parents who live within walking distance of the Alma Real building. Other classes have been held at the Palisades Recreation Center’s upper and lower picnic areas. ‘We’ve committed to holding classes at the temporary locations for this week and this week alone,’ Bryan said Monday. ‘We will not operate next week the same as this week.’ Yesterday, freshmen took a field trip to Long Beach Aquarium and today, sophomores are scheduled for a field trip to the Getty Museum. On Friday, students in grades 10-12 will return to Santa Monica College’s Stewart Street campus for classes while ninth graders will report to classes in the Alma Real building and at off-campus sites. During lunch period, from noon to 1 p.m., most RA students have been buying their lunch from local vendors, which has caused numerous complaints from the community regarding an overpopulation of students in the Village each day. While about 25 students were observed eating or socializing in the park early this week, larger groups congregated in the Village Green area, across from Coffee Bean and Robek’s Juice. The school’s current enrollment is at 300 students, with 20 teachers (full and part-time) and a three-person administrative staff.