Board to Buy, Raze 8 Homes to Expand School Playground

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Monday to buy and raze eight North Hollywood homes to expand the playground of a crowded school, rejecting an alternative plan that would have spared the houses.

Board members decided to acquire the homes on Gentry Avenue near Victory Boulevard Elementary School despite protests from the homeowners, who vowed to go to court to keep their homes. The project will cost $1.56 million.

Only board member Roberta Weintraub, who represents the area, opposed the proposal.

"I feel my home is being stolen from me," Gentry Avenue resident Selma Green said.

Will Add 2 Acres to Play Area

Built to accommodate 903 students, the school has an enrollment of 1,122 and operates on a year-round schedule. Bungalows serving as classrooms have been placed on the playground, leaving the children less than an acre on which to play. Tearing down the eight homes will add slightly more than two acres to the play area, school officials said.

Weintraub submitted the alternative plan, to demolish a one-story building on the school grounds and replace it with a two-story classroom building. The $2.1-million proposal would have allowed removal of several temporary bungalows, giving the school about an acre more of playground.

"I hate to see us get off on this kind of footing now," Weintraub said of the plan to take the homes. She said the board faces similar decisions at other severely crowded schools.

'Need More Immediate Solution'

Weintraub warned her colleagues that the board faces lawsuits that will tie up acquisition of the homes for several years.

"We need a more immediate solution," she said.

But board member Larry Gonzalez argued that "spending $2.1 million for less space is not solving the problem."

Board member John Greenwood said he has visited the school, where recess is taken in shifts so that one-third of the students are on the playground in continuous relays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The children on the crowded playground make so much noise that students in class have trouble hearing their teachers, he said.

"It's a disaster," Greenwood said.

Board member Tom Bartman said that, in taking the homes, the board will be exercising its power of eminent domain "for the purest and most honorable" of reasons--the education, health and welfare of children.

"I don't think a two-story building solves the playground problem," he said.

The school board was scheduled to vote on the acquisition plan last spring. But the vote was delayed by Gentry Avenue residents, who asked the board to consider changing school boundaries, so some Victory students could attend other schools, or building a school on city-owned land at nearby Valley Plaza Park.

The school board's building committee, of which Weintraub is a member, in May turned down the residents' alternatives.

Resident for 12 Years

Green, a widow who has lived on Gentry Avenue for 12 years, complained, along with other residents, that their homes were chosen to be razed without their knowledge.

"It's sneaky, that's what it is," she said.

Tom Paterson, president of the North Hollywood Residents Assn., said the schoolchildren "are not packed together" on the playground. "The real issue at Victory is overcrowded classrooms."

He asked the board to "abandon this awful project and get down to the business of reducing classroom overcrowding" through implementation of the alternatives suggested by residents.

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