Schools Building Boom About to Begin on 5 Sites, 7 More Sought

Times Staff Writer

Every time a new school is to be built in the densely populated Southeast area, the Los Angeles Unified School District faces the often grueling process of finding an acceptable site.

It almost always means having to displace either property owners, businesses or both, since there is little vacant land. The district also must balance the needs of cities, whose planning or redevelopment agencies sometimes have different plans for the sites.

District officials say the payoff in the long process will be evident when new schools open and ease the area's chronic overcrowded condition. There are 12 new schools in various phases of planning in the cities of Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park and South Gate.

About 1,000 students are bused out of the Southeast area, even though every school in the region is on a year-round calendar.

"We want to try to provide good, modern facilities in the same area kids live. It makes it all worthwhile," said Byron Kimball, who oversees district building.

In the Southeast area, five new schools will be under construction by summer, and the district is looking for sites for seven more. Some of the schools were first proposed more than four years ago, Kimball said, but the district hopes to accelerate the development schedule in the coming months and move more rapidly to construction on the others.

Bob Niccum, director of real estate, said the first thing the district looks for when scouting locations for schools is vacant land.

"Usually land is all filled up with buildings," Niccum said. "Our obvious goal is to have as little negative impact as we can."

Low-Density Areas Sought

The district first picks a site it considers to be ideal, gauges reaction from city officials and the community, then proposes alternatives.

"It's a very tough problem," said Niccum, who noted that the district tries to find sites where density is low. "Do you displace 40 single-family homes or do you displace 200 (apartment) units? It's not an easy answer. We look at it on a case-by-case basis."

School enrollment, especially that of grade-school children, is booming throughout the Los Angeles district. Officials expect an increase of at least 15,000 students districtwide every year for the next five years. While the district has implemented interim measures, such as placing some schools on year-round schedules, including all those in the Southeast region, officials say they remain committed to building new schools as a long-term solution.

To prepare for the influx, the district has applied to the state for more than $600 million for land, construction of new schools and additions to existing schools.

"We're whistling now," Kimball said, referring to the coming boom in school construction. He said the district also plans to refurbish and expand several schools in addition to the building of new ones.

So far, the district has received approval from the state for $265 million to build 18 schools in Bell, South Gate, Huntington Park and all of Los Angeles; that includes the five in the Southeast area. The district also will receive $111 million for expansion of 32 existing schools. Most of the schools will be built with money from a state school bond measure passed by voters in 1982.

District officials say they have received few complaints despite having to displace homeowners, renters and businesses.

"There are obviously upset people, but there is pretty much general acceptance of the plan," Kimball said. "I think the feeling in the general community is they waited so long for the school district to come up with the money, they better not say anything. They have been wanting (schools) for many, many years."

Of all the areas being considered for new schools, only one site has stirred considerable opposition. A group calling itself the South Gate Business Owners Assn. opposes plans to build a regional high school--Southeast Regional High School--on a 41.7-acre industrial site near Atlantic Avenue and Wood Avenue in South Gate. The site includes more than 60 businesses.

"Everyone wants a school close by, but not next door and not on their property," Kimball said.

Homes Would Be Razed

In Bell, one property owner questioned why the district is planning to raze several homes and apartment units near Bell City Hall when the district owns vacant land nearby. The homes and apartments are on the site of a new elementary school--Bell Elementary No. 2.

Esther Leizerowitz, who owns seven units at 6249 Pine Ave., points out that the district owns a vacant parcel at Atlantic Avenue and Randolph Place. The district agreed last year to sell it to the city for a redevelopment project in exchange for a share of tax increment monies.

"Why are they spending millions of dollars to displace people? They don't have to do it," Leizerowitz said. "We shouldn't have to start all over."

Kimball said the benefits to both the city and the district of switching the school site outweigh the delay in construction and acquisition costs.

Site Moved One Block

The district will not only receive money from the city, but the school will no longer border a major street, he said. The original school site was to run from busy Atlantic Avenue to Pine Avenue, south of Randolph Place. As now proposed, the school will move one block to the west and stretch from Clarkson Avenue to Flora Avenue.

The city and the school district agreed last year that the city would share its tax increment money from redevelopment projects in exchange for the right to buy the original school site from the district. In addition to paying for the land, Bell will give the district $11 million over a 30-year period to refurbish schools in Bell.

The city benefits from the unique agreement because it creates a large parcel for a shopping center, which will become the city's major redevelopment project. The city owns the parcel next to the district property, which was a used-car dealership.

Examples of how the district can accommodate people upset with its original siting plans are illustrated by changes disclosed last week.

Two Sites Changed

Two proposed school sites in Huntington Park and Bell have been shifted, Niccum said. The district had notified property owners living near Plaska Avenue and Gage Avenue in Huntington Park that the site is no longer being considered for Huntington Park Elementary No. 2. The other site no longer under consideration is at Salt Lake and Bell avenues in Bell. It would have housed Bell Elementary No. 4.

"After receiving additional information from people in the two cities, they indicated alternative sites would be better," said Niccum, who would not disclose the new locations until the property owners are notified this month.

The only new junior high school proposed in the region will be built at the site of an elementary school. The Elizabeth Street Elementary School in Cudahy will be converted to a junior high, and the grade-school children attending there will go to one of the new elementary schools planned in Bell and Cudahy.

Kimball said the district usually looks at three to five sites before deciding upon a final location.

"The (school) board is sensitive to the potential impact on the community and the supply of affordable housing," he said. "It's part of the agony and ecstasy of school planning in California."

The five schools to be built this year are:

Bell Elementary No. 1, 4242 Clara St., Cudahy. A contract has been awarded and construction is expected to begin in three weeks. (School names are the working titles used by the Los Angeles Unified School District. The name denotes the city where students will attend high school.)

Bell Elementary No. 2, 6210 Pine Ave., Bell. Construction is expected to begin this summer.

Huntington Park Elementary No. 1, 2641 Olive St., Huntington Park. Construction is expected to begin in the late summer.

South Gate Elementary No. 1, 9801 San Miguel Ave., South Gate. Bids for construction have been received and a contract will be awarded within a month.

South Gate Elementary No. 2, 1001 Montara Ave., South Gate. The school is now under construction.

Of the seven schools in the planning stage, five have proposed sites. They are:

Southeast Regional High School/South Gate Elementary No. 3, Atlantic Avenue and Wood Avenue, South Gate.

South Gate Elementary No. 4, Victoria Avenue and Independence Avenue, South Gate.

Southeast Area Junior High School, Elizabeth Street and Atlantic Avenue, Cudahy.

Huntington Park Elementary No. 3, 57th Street and Seville Avenue, Huntington Park.

Bell Elementary No. 3, Florence Avenue and the Los Angeles River, Bell.

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