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NEWS - San Ignacio Baja Bus

An abandoned yellow school bus in a windswept Mexican fishing village has been drawing unusual attention from more than 500 miles away in San Diego.

The bus and village sit on the shores of Laguna San Ignacio, a breeding ground and nursery for migratory gray whales off the coast of Baja California Sur. For years an eyesore, the bus has become the inspiration for a cross-border effort to convert it into a library and community center next to the village’s lone elementary school.

“This will be our autobús del conocimiento, our bus for knowledge,” said Raúl López, leader of the 500-member community known as Ejido Luis Echeverría. “This will motivate students to do extracurricular work.”

Launched earlier this year as a service project by two sophomores at Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, the project has drawn the support of the National City-based International Community Foundation. The bus has inspired designs by Carlos Graizbord, an adjunct faculty member at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego, as well as a group of student architects working on a class project who presented their joint design last week.

Among the ideas generated by the projects: outside pathways made of crushed clam shells, solar ponds on the roof of the bus, a wall for film projections. The idea is to encourage students and their parents to study the environment that surrounds them.

“It’s a magical little project,” said NewSchool professor Leslie Ryan, who worked with four of her students to draw up a design: Valley Center resident Victor Rocha and three exchange students from Spain — Millaray Vega, Carolina Turmo and Alejandro Lorente.

The abandoned school bus in Laguna San Ignacio. / Richard Kiy * International Community Foundation. Mexico’s federal government originally gave the community the bus to pick up and drop off students, López said. But parts are scarce and maintenance is difficult, and the vehicle eventually broke down.

If the project succeeds, it could serve as a pilot for other communities in the region faced with the same abandoned-bus dilemna, López said.

Laguna San Ignacio’s high school students travel to the nearest town for class, two hours away and down a deeply rutted, largely unpaved road. The younger students remain in the community, 68 elementary students taught on-site and 38 junior high school students who take classes through a telesecundaria, or remote-learning facility.

For all its wealth of natural resources — whales, turtles, migratory birds and mangroves — Laguna San Ignacio is economically isolated and educational opportunities are limited. Enter Akash Patel and Ian Torbett, sophomores at Pacific Ridge School looking for a service project in April. Patel’s father is on the board of the International Community Foundation, and so the son contacted foundation president Richard Kiy for a project idea.

The foundation has long been involved with Laguna San Ignacio, helping broker a 2005 groundbreaking agreement through which Ejido members agreed to limit development on four-fifths of their property — or 120,000 acres — in exchange for a $25,000 annual payment through a trust fund supported by environmental groups.

Patel and Torbett quickly picked up on Kiy’s suggestion that they take on Project Bus, as they call it. They have raised more than $5,000, but still have a ways to go: Depending on the design, the project could cost up to $35,000.

Patel and Torbett, now juniors at Pacific Ridge, said they already feel enriched by the experience. Patel remembers visiting San Ignacio with his family on a whale-watching tour, but “before I took on this project, I didn’t have any idea of what the community actually was and what it needed,” he said.

Next month, they hope to travel to San Ignacio to present the proposals directly to members of the community.

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