Residents in Lamont are clamoring for a new high school to be built in their community, but there’s no indication that will happen anytime soon.
Kern High School District officials cite a lack of students, available land and growth in the area among the reasons why it won’t build in Lamont right away.
Lamont community members began organizing after the KHSD launched a series of community forums in northwest Bakersfield this spring to discuss boundary changes to mitigate rapid growth fueled by massive housing developments.
Which got folks in Lamont thinking: why don’t we have our own school?
“Our community wants this,” said Jose Gonzales, Lamont Chamber of Commerce president, who has been rallying for the new school. He pointed to a housing development under construction that would bring 160 new homes to Arvin. Before long, Arvin High School, which serves all of Lamont, Arvin, Weedpatch and other south Kern farming communities, would be overcrowded, he said.
Students who attended September’s KHSD board meeting said they feel cramped in buses traveling to Arvin High, a roughly 13-15 minute ride from the city center. Seven buses make routes to and from Lamont daily.
“We have too many students,” Brendan Ruiz, an Arvin High sophomore who lives in Lamont, told board members. “I take that bus to school. The buses are crowded and I’m frustrated sometimes. It’s uncomfortable, especially if you’re sitting on the edge. The ride is really long and you’re just hanging on until you get there, but it’s better than sitting on the floor.”
He’s had to sit on the floor three times so far this year, an experience he described as “dirty and embarrassing.”
Lunch lines get so long that sometimes Ruiz said he doesn’t eat at all.
Arvin High Principal Ed Watts told board members that he takes pride in the cafeteria, the third largest in the district, capable of serving every student in line during a single lunch period within 15 minutes.
“If a student comes up and we’re aware they didn’t get a lunch, we get it to them right away,” Watts said. “We make sure food is not an issue at Arvin High School. We make sure every student is fed.”
The district has prioritized more rapid growth outside of the Lamont area, and pointed to a handful of challenges, chief among them, a lack of suitable land to construct a school in that town. District-retained Realtors are seeking land in the area to build a school in the future – property speculation is common for KHSD for future builds – but haven’t had much luck finding anything outside a floodplain, KHSD Deputy Superintendent of Business Scott Cole said.
Gonzales disputes that. “They have plenty of land,” he said. “They just need the will to do it.”
But even if the district could find land, Lamont doesn’t have enough students to support its own high school, Cole said.
KHSD requires about 2,000 students before building a new school, Cole said. Lamont has about 1,150 students attending Arvin High, which has a total student population of about 2,600 teens, he said. The school is built to handle more than 3,000 and is the largest campus by acreage in the district.
“While that time may come, it’s a challenge because we don’t have enough for a school,” Cole said, skeptical about building a new school soon. “If you ask me if it will be built in the next 20 years? Definitely. But it won’t be built tomorrow.”