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District Plans to Build Schools Over Flood Channel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles school district officials seeking land for desperately needed classroom space are making plans to build elementary schools over a county flood control channel in Arleta and in a section of Exposition Park.

The unusual arrangement is part of a statewide legislative effort to avoid displacing residents in crowded cities such as Los Angeles, where a new elementary school can mean the bulldozing of more than 200 homes.

“This not traditionally how we have located schools,” said Bonnie James, administrator of building services for the Los Angeles Unified School District. “But we can’t very well find the five to 25 acres of property waiting vacant in areas where the youngsters are.”

The proposed schools would incorporate state-of-the-art technology, such as the replacement of student desks with computer stations, said school district facilities planner Philippe Yancey-Piens.

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The Exposition Park school would concentrate on teaching science, with help from the California Museum of Science and Industry, which owns the site, and the Education Department at USC, which is located across the street, museum officials said.

Rapid growth in the 615,000-student district prompted the school board earlier this year to convert all district schools to year-round schedules by July, 1991. More than 25,000 students now ride buses from neighborhoods where schools are at capacity to less crowded schools in the San Fernando Valley and Westside. Even those less crowded areas are expected to run out of elementary school seats by this summer.

The school district has won preliminary approval from the state Allocation Board for its application to receive special construction funds to pay for the two new schools, district officials said.

The funds are part of the year-old Space Saver program, created in legislation sponsored by state Sen. Leroy Greene (D-Carmichael). The program was established to encourage districts to find land for new schools that will not require the taking of private property and displacement of residents.

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The district has bought about 2,000 homes and apartments in the last five years, district officials said. The school board is awaiting approval from the Allocation Board over the district’s controversial proposal to buy the 24-acre Ambassador Hotel site for a downtown high school.

Last year, three new schools were opened, and the district has plans to build another 29 schools, officials said.

Nearly 100 residents attended a meeting at a Pacoima school Wednesday to hear district plans on construction of one of the Space Saver schools on five acres at Arleta Avenue and Devonshire Street.

Some residents at the meeting opposed the proposed school--which would be built in part over the Pacoima Diversion Channel--because of increased traffic and noise, as well as possible vandalism. “I don’t like the idea,” said neighbor Danny Choti.

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The availability of the land for the proposed school is far from certain. The five-acre parcel under consideration has three separate owners: Chevron U.S.A., the Los Angeles County Flood Control District and the city Recreation and Parks Department.

“Until we finalize the arrangements, we don’t have a deal,” James said.

The state and school board must also give final approval to the projects.

Jeff Rudolph, executive director of the Museum of Science and Industry, said district officials first raised the idea of the science school two months ago. Final approval would be required by the museum’s board of directors, which controls the 130-acre Exposition Park, he said.

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“The two issues are whether we can help in curriculum and putting together a truly innovative school and questions about design,” Rudolph said. “But we are interested.”


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