Macheri Hall's excitement was tempered by apprehension as she gazed at the architectural model of her new Mid-Wilshire elementary school for the first time on Tuesday. "It's so biiiig!" the third-grader said. "What if we get lost? No one will know where we are."
"Wait a minute," said another student. "Where's the playground? Don't we get to play?"
With that, more children approached. A chubby youngster traced a trail from his classroom to the cafeteria and pronounced himself pleased with the proximity. A fourth classmate waited until the others had left, then tried to abscond with the cardboard rendering of a car.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials will be pleased if the students show as much interest in the real Los Angeles New Elementary School No. 1 as they did in the model unveiled at ground-breaking ceremonies. The elementary school, the first to be built in the Mid-Wilshire area in 51 years, will relieve overcrowding.
"There's no question that this will be a boost to the neighborhood," said regional schools Supt. Eugene McAdoo. "But the major benefit will be to the children."
The $4.5-million school, made of prefabricated materials, will house 1,000 students when it opens in September. The 400 youngsters already using the campus have spent the last four months in small bungalows while they await the start of state-funded construction.
A number of them, including dozens of kindergarten students with cardboard shovels in hand, stood by on the school blacktop Tuesday morning as officials broke ground for the new campus, which is described as the first "modular school" in the history of the district. As such, it will cost less and be ready sooner than more traditional construction.
Several speakers told the children that they will be "thrilled" to watch their new school take shape. But Tom Bartman, a former board member, really grabbed their attention when he explained that the parts of the prefabricated school will be assembled like building blocks.
The elementary school will sit on 8.3 acres and include six buildings, 31 classrooms, administrative offices, a library and a cafeteria, replacing the current school's cramped and makeshift facilities. School Board President Rita Walters, who donned a hard hat for the ground breaking, said the site at 3330 W. Pico Blvd. was chosen because it is central to one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in the district.
A second elementary school is on the drawing boards, and there are tentative plans for a new junior high school and high school in the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood. Other schools in the area are targeted for expansion, officials said, and most have already gone to year-round schedules.
"We haven't built schools in Los Angeles in many, many years," Walters said. "So it's significant that a new school will be going up in the inner city. But the need is here."
School records show that district enrollment has climbed from 534,000 to 592,000 over the last eight years. In Region D, which includes Mid-Wilshire, enrollment has jumped by 4,000 in five years.
Many Minority Students
Principal Joe Miraglia, who heads the Los Angeles New Elementary School No. 1, said he is already taking in five or six new children each week. Nearly all his pupils are minority students. Miraglia said that about 60% are Latino, 20% are Asian and 20% are black.
Most of the people who live near the school are also poor. Information compiled by the National Planning Data Corp. shows that 28% of the families in the neighborhood make less than $7,500 a year and another 28% make between $7,500 and $15,000 a year. The overall population has grown by more than 11% since 1980.