Vandal breaks into Campus Center

The building, which has been closed since flooding in September 2020, was burglarized before the end of the fall semester.

By Marcos Franco, Managing Editor

A man runs across the front of the Campus Center building at Valley College in Los Angeles, Calif. on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. The structure once served as a bookstore and held classes across a variety of disciplines but was closed off from the public after asbestos was discovered within it. This did not deter burglars from breaking and entering the building. (Jeremy Ruiz / The Valley Star)

During the last week of regularly scheduled classes at Valley College, an unidentified vandal broke into the vacant Campus Center building, smashing all interior windows and damaging tarps used to separate abatement-treated areas within the basement.

Vice President of Administrative Services Sarah Song sent out an email to faculty Tuesday afternoon on Dec. 7, alerting them of the break-in to Campus Center which has been uninhabited for the last 15 months due to last year’s flooding. The damage was discovered that morning and it is believed that the suspect gained entry through the courtyard. Although computers and other items of high value do not appear to be missing from the building, investigators are still uncertain whether anything was taken at all. The motive for the break-in is still unknown.

“There's a lot of damage throughout the building,” said Deputy Sheriff Fernando Felix. “Somebody was down there and cut the tarps so we’re clearing the building but yeah, there's a lot of damage down there but no cameras were working and there are no witnesses.”

Felix explains that since the suspect broke into the building to commit a crime — vandalism in this case — the offense is considered burglary.

Campus Center has been out of commission since September 2020, when a pipe burst between the Art and Student Union buildings, sending 250,000 gallons of water throughout the campus. The building’s basement was flooded, damaging transformers and eventually leading to asbestos development within the flooring. Valley finalized a contract for abatement last April which was only expected to take four weeks and is still currently in the works.

Since the building closure, staff and faculty of the Media Arts department have been relocated throughout the campus until their official location within the Valley Academic and Cultural Center opens in 2023. As Campus Center remains closed for abatement, faculty has had equipment including computers tied up in the building as campus officials are concerned they could be contaminated with asbestos. This has stirred up frustration for faculty who have gone months without their supplies and access to lab classrooms.

“We have not been able to use any of that equipment,” said Media Arts Department Chair Eric Swelstad. “Our students have been denied the use of the equipment and our ability to have them do their projects with school equipment is limited. We have cameras, tripods and lights that we can’t get to because it’s locked up.”

The college has not informed faculty as to when they will have access to their materials and labrooms once again but instructors hope to be set up in a secure location soon.

“We’re scattered all over campus. We’re in the library, we’re in the motion picture studio,” said Swelstad. “The problem is that we lost our computer lab so we haven’t been able to access the Adobe software that we need.”

The media arts department improvised with the materials accessible to them and has converted classrooms into labs to accommodate classes.

Campus Center is part of a group of aged buildings and bungalows that are expected to be demolished within the next five to seven years. With restoration work for the building exceeding more than $1 million prior to the burglary, the seven-figure investment for a building that is on its way out may come as a surprise.

Over the fall semester, the college has struggled with crime on campus ranging from burglary and vandalism to indecent exposure. A reoccurring factor for the offenses is the lack of surveillance footage despite functional cameras throughout the campus. The Sheriff’s Station is working with campus officials to map out the most practical locations for new cameras as well as increasing patrols when time permits.

“We are trying to prevent crime by being more visible through the campus,” said Felix. “Whenever we have overtime we will use those extra bodies to hangout in the area and be visible to students to let them know that we are here.”

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