Construction workers are scheduled to begin removing asbestos from the interior walls of Ravenswood High School in East Palo Alto this week.
There won't be much for onlookers to see, but in another week or so the bulldozers will fire up and begin turning the former classrooms into rubble.
The demolition of the high school is the first physical step in the Gateway 101 redevelopment project, which will include more than 400,000 square feet of retail stores, anchored by a large Home Depot.
"It will truly be a release to put a shovel in the ground," said City Council member Bill Vines. "It's been a long, uphill climb." He said the regional shopping center "will be the key to the city's financial survival."
The stores will replace the high school, two older apartment complexes and 13 single-family homes. Residents of those buildings will begin to be relocated by the city later this year. Housing will also be built in a later phase of the Gateway project.
The construction of the stores could begin as early as Sept. 1, said David Miller, the city's director of planning and public works, and will take eight to 10 months. That would put the stores on a schedule to be open in the fall of 1996, in time for the holiday season.
In addition to Home Depot, the complex will include a Good Guys electronics store, Tower Records, Office Depot, Sportmart, a computer store and one or more fast food restaurants.
The City Council recently selected a consortium of four construction and development firms to be the master developer for the project and see the project through to completion.
While the removal of the high school buildings is a mark of progress of for the city as the beginning of the Gateway project, there is some sadness, too, because the high school was an important part of the community until it was closed in 1976.
Mayor Rose Jacobs Gibson is an alumna of Ravenswood High School, and Vines taught there from 1969 until the school closed.
"It feels good," Vines said about the demolition of the high school, "but at the same time I have some nostalgic feelings."
Vines was a work experience teacher, administrator, wrestling coach and assistant football coach at the school. He is now a vice principal at Woodside High School.
"The buildings have a lot of memories for me," Vines said. "But it's appropriate that the loss of a high school can result in help for the city." --Don Kazak
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