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Plan to Create Park on Schoolyard Fizzles

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A last-minute attempt to turn part of a Los Feliz private school campus into an urban park faltered this week after two Los Angeles city councilmen said the city could not help finance the effort.

Without city aid, the sale of the entire property is all but certain, school officials said.

Los Feliz Hills School administrators and neighboring residents were trying to garner city funds to buy part of the Russell Avenue campus in an effort to create a park and help the school fight off bankruptcy.

In addition, residents have said they fear that if the campus is sold to a developer a high-density apartment or condominium complex could end up on the property, increasing traffic and congestion in the area.

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An offer by another school for the property could be accepted this week, said Phyllis Lake, a real estate broker representing the property. She would not identify the potential buyer because the sale still is being negotiated.

Lake said she has received offers from several groups that want to continue using the property as a school.

Los Feliz Hills School occupies 6.2 acres on a bluff near ABC Studios and the Shakespeare Bridge. The school’s several octagon-shaped buildings take up less than two acres, and a grassy field and parking lot cover the remaining 4.6 acres. Some area residents have proposed that a park should be created in the field area, which would allow the school to remain at the site, said Tony Michaelis, a board member of the Franklin Hills Residents Assn.

The association and school board members had requested about $250,000 from the city’s Recreation and Parks Department. That was envisioned as the key component of a $2.2-million funding package of state, local and private funds, said Michaelis, who orchestrated the park effort.

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But aides to councilmen Michael Woo, whose district includes Los Feliz, and John Ferraro told Michaelis this week that the city had no money to give.

“We made an effort to try to make this thing work, and the city basically shot us down,” Michaelis said.

But Woo’s and Ferraro’s aides said the money was allocated months ago to another recreation and parks project, which lies in Ferraro’s district. They said city funds might be available next year, but that requests by Michaelis were made too late for this year’s budget.

“If the money was there, we would do it,” said Diana Brueggemann, a senior field deputy for Woo. “But these kind of acquisitions generally take a lot of planning, and the city is just not flush with money to do park acquisitions.”

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The $250,000 was key to the effort because it was expected to trigger other private and state funding, Michaelis said. For instance, he and other supporters of the school had been told that if the city had provided funds, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy would be more likely to provide a $250,000 matching grant, he said.

Michaelis said he and others will continue to search for funds. But he acknowledged that a sale of the entire school now is almost certain. That would leave Los Feliz Hills School students, teachers and administrators searching for a new home, administrators said.

The school, built in 1960, owes nearly $2 million to its creditors. Administrators said the debts were created in the 1970s, when the school was closely tied to the Church of Scientology. The relationship ended in 1984 because of differences over finances and control of the school, Headmaster Chris Geissmann said.

Last November, the school filed for reorganization under federal bankruptcy laws, which allow financially troubled companies to try and solve their economic woes rather than closing.

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