Manteca High was forced into a school-wide lockdown Tuesday thanks to the vulnerability of Garfield Avenue slicing the campus in half and a homeless population that congregates in and around the adjacent Lincoln Park.
The lockdown at 1:33 p.m. occurred after school staff spotted a man walking through the campus wearing a knife in a sheath on his belt.
Manteca Police caught up with the man near the high school football field. They determined he was in legal possession of the knife under California law given it was in a sheath. The man told officers he was taking a short cut through the campus. He went on his way after talking with police.
In recent years campus monitors and staff have come across homeless individuals that have bedded down for the night in and around the stadium as well as under bushes along Garfield Avenue.
Not only is Lincoln Park — a popular gathering place for homeless — immediately to the east of the campus — but so is an area that has been used extensively in the past by the homeless for overnight stays or to hang out at that is between homes, the park, the high school campus, and the Lincoln School fields that do double duty for Manteca Little League.
It is not uncommon for the homeless to cut through the eastern part of the Manteca High campus to reach the area adjacent to Lincoln Park though most of the time it is at night or when school is not in session.
“We are closer than we’ve been to coming up with a solution to give the district (control of Garfield Avenue where it slices through the Manteca High campus) to protect the students,” Manteca Mayor Steve DeBrum said.
Manteca Unified officials have been talking with the city about taking over the section of Garfield between Mikesell Street and a point north of Moffat Boulevard just past Precision Automotive that cuts the 98-year-old campus in two. It leaves 15 classrooms plus the school’s football field, baseball field, tennis courts and PE area to the east of the street and the remaining 65 classrooms, two gyms, library, swimming pool, theatre arts building and office to the west.
And while the potential of cars striking students as they moved between classes was eliminated over a decade ago when the city agreed to a plan to allow gates to close the street section to traffic during the school day, it still leaves a big security problem. That’s because people can still walk through the campus via Garfield Avenue at will as nothing restricts their movements on foot or bicycle either on sidewalks or in the street. Several times in recent year homeless have been seen pushing shopping carts on Garfield where it cuts through the campus while school was in session.
Campus monitors pay extra attention to the area while the school has a policy that teachers must keep the doors of classrooms that are east of Garfield locked when classes are in session for added security.
“We want to make it happen,” DeBrum said of the city closing the segment of Garfield Avenue.
In order to that, the city has to address issues such as water and sewer line easements to remain accessible as well as sort through legal issues.
DeBrum noted a precedent was set years ago when a city street located near the southern edge of the student parking lot was abandoned for school use.
Manteca Unified is preparing to invest $40 million into the Manteca High campus to address healthy and safety issues, modernize buildings, and expand the campus.
It will tap into $15 million from the $159 million Measure G bond voters approved in 2014 specifically for health, safety, and modernization work.
Another $21 million in developer fees and $4 million in one-time redevelopment agency funds will go toward building capacity for growth. It will be the first high school campus in the district to ultimately accommodate 2,200 students.
Among the options being considered are two-story classroom structures, a new large gym, and orientating the front of the campus to Moffat Boulevard.
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