While the attention of most Los Angeles residents was riveted on the televised Academy Awards Monday night, a different sort of fame had caught the interest of a small group of Los Feliz fans.
About 40 people who live near Marshall High School, one of the Los Angeles Unified School District's most famous structures, gathered at the school to protest plans to build a new facility along the front of the landmark campus.
Construction of the new $3.5-million, 25,000-square-foot building began this week as bulldozers started leveling an area between Tracy and Ames streets just north of the Marshall auditorium.
But critics say the proposed building is ugly and that its stark concrete design clashes with the Gothic architecture of the school.
Because of its classic design, the school has been a favorite of motion picture production companies over the years, such as the makers of "Grease." The school district's real estate office, which oversees property leases, said Marshall's primary attraction is its exterior.
Although a contract to build the facility has been signed, district officials agreed Monday to review the design and consider adding a brick exterior that would match the other buildings on Tracy Street should funding become available.
The building's current design would allow exterior changes to be made within the next two months. A second meeting will be held in a month to update community members on the construction.
Representatives of Marshall High School and the school district listened as neighbors criticized the project's planning process and the effects it will have on their neighborhood during the 14-month construction period.
"The district typically has gone and done their job while the community hasn't been apprised of what's being done," said Nina Mohi, a Commonwealth Avenue resident and Marshall graduate. "Now that they have this contract, they're saying 'We're going to give it to you this way,' which doesn't make for a good relationship between the school district and the community."
Jackie Goldberg, school board president, told residents that the project, which the district first proposed five years ago, began at a time when community input was "very, very limited."
Goldberg said the district had an opportunity to receive state funds in 1986 and proposed the new facility to help provide room for Marshall's eventual switch to a four-year program.
Beginning in September, 200 ninth-graders from nearby Irving Junior High School will begin classes at Marshall, bringing enrollment to more than 3,000. Marshall Principal Debra Leidner said the new building will provide 16 additional classrooms, needed to prevent severe overcrowding.
"We had hoped to get the building finished before these kids arrive," Leidner said. "Whether it is finished in time or not, it will be critical to have the space for the students."
Residents don't dispute the need for more room. They are more concerned about the location of the building and what it will look like.
Kathy Godfrey, a Tracy Street resident, said she still doesn't understand why the district chose the location it did and what impact construction will have on her neighborhood.
Teachers at Marshall, residents and alumni have a long history of campus involvement. After the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, the district planned to demolish the campus and rebuild. The community, however, mobilized and was able to persuade the district to renovate the buildings rather than demolish them. The renovations cost the district $7.5 million, more than twice the $3.5 million demolition and rebuilding would have cost.
Mohi said the district feared the community might again demand that school authorities take more time and spend more money to build a structure that would please neighbors. "We feel more than slighted by the district that they haven't given the community a chance for input," Mohi said.
Bonnie James, district administrator of new facilities, said the original design included a brick facade but that a series of unsuccessful bid attempts led the district to drop exterior considerations from its proposal.
"The first two times the project went out to bid, the lowest bid came in $1 million over budget," James said. "We dropped a number of interior plans and the brick for the exterior in our third attempt, and the lowest responsible bid came in $313,000 under budget."
Although the brick exterior would cost the district only $300,000 for two sides, James said the state took back the $313,000 that had been saved. The building is set against a hill below Ames Street.
"We are seeking the help of Sen. David Roberti to try and release those funds," he said. "If we get it, which won't be easy, the first thing we'll improve is the interior. Whatever is left over can then go to the brickwork."
Goldberg pledged that she would personally seek support from Roberti and asked that community members also contact Roberti's office for assistance in reclaiming the $313,000.
She also cautioned that requesting funds from the State Allocation Board (SAB) would not be an easy process.
"The way the SAB works, well, it's a very medieval system," Goldberg said. "If we can get the community involved with Roberti's office, we might stand a chance."
Residents were also upset that the district brought only blueprints of the new building to the meeting instead of an artist's rendering. Goldberg said another meeting will be scheduled in three to four weeks, at which time a rendering of the new building will be provided, along with one that will include the brick facade, drawn up for one of the previous proposals.
Goldberg added that residents will be kept informed of the construction schedule and that there is still time to change the exterior design if the district receives the necessary funds.
"If we can get that money, we'll be able to discuss what direction to take from there," Goldberg said. "It's important to remember that this is about two competing goods--what's best for the students and what's best for the community."