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How much is the Porter Ranch school relocation costing?

How much is the Porter Ranch school relocation costing?
L.A. Unified maintenance workers, from left, Patricia Nolasco, Alexis Delahoussaye and Jorge Velasco clean one of 35 prebuilt bungalows set up at Northridge Middle School for students relocated from Porter Ranch Community School. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The school district's cost for dealing with a gas leak in Aliso Canyon has surpassed $5 million, according to officials with Los Angeles Unified, which has relocated two campuses.

The total of expenses could rise much higher and is still being tallied, said district General Counsel David Holmquist.

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The gas leak, from a storage well operated by the Southern California Gas Co., has prompted more than 4,500 families to apply for relocation assistance from the energy company since late October. Two schools also were affected, with teachers and students reporting an increase in health problems, as attendance and enrollment dipped.

The gas company has covered moving and related living costs for residents, but has not come to terms with L.A. Unified. Not wanting to wait any longer, the Board of Education in December approved the shutdown of Porter Ranch Community School, which enrolls students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and Castlebay Lane Charter Elementary.

The district acted so that new facilities could be prepared over winter break. Porter Ranch students will resume classes on Tuesday at Northridge Middle School. Students and staff at Castlebay Lane will relocate to Sunny Brae Avenue Elementary in Winnetka.

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For the Record

8:22 a.m.: An earlier version of this article said the relocated Porter Ranch students will resume school Monday. They will return Tuesday.

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Construction crews have spent the last three weeks building annexes at the two host campuses.

Besides the moving costs, the district has rented and installed portable buildings; extended water, sewer and electrical connections; and laid down concrete and asphalt. The district said it made the changes in compliance with rules and inspection guidelines from the Division of the State Architect, which oversees school construction. 
There also have been expenses at the now-closed campuses, including environmental testing, the installation of air-filtration equipment and added nursing staff.

The Board of Education has authorized its attorneys to sue Southern California Gas, if necessary, for reimbursement, but so far, talks have been amicable although inconclusive, Holmquist said.

Scott Schmerelson, the L.A. Unified board member who represents Porter Ranch, said he is confident that the gas company will have to pay the tab, although no commitment has been made. "I have no idea what the cost is, but it will all be reimbursed by SoCal Gas," he said.

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