Accord Reached on High School for East L.A.

For several years, educators and civic leaders have struggled to come up with a plan to build a new high school in East Los Angeles to take some of the enrollment burden from overcrowded Garfield High. A previous plan died amid political squabbles, public relations blunders and a dispute over location.

But on Friday, community leaders and Los Angeles Unified School District officials stood on the steps outside Garfield and announced they had agreed on an innovative solution to the complex problem of building a 2,300-student high school in unincorporated East Los Angeles.

The plan involves building the school on the site of what is now Hammel Street Elementary, an aging facility badly in need of repair, and rebuilding Hammel about a quarter of a mile away on the site of the Eastside Learning Center, an adult school that will be moved elsewhere. It would also require the acquisition of 10 single-family homes, 60 apartments and some commercial property on land adjacent to Hammel.

The new high school would open in 2010, according to district officials, on a traditional two-semester calendar. Garfield, which now has about 4,500 students, would be able to get off its multitrack, year-round schedule and convert to a traditional calendar the same year.

"We think we have a tremendous plan here," said school board member David Tokofsky, who represents the area around Garfield. "The Bulldogs will be giving birth to two new puppies," he said, referring to the Garfield mascot.

"This is a better, more intelligent, efficient use of land we already own," said Jose De Paz, senior community outreach organizer for LAUSD. Finding a way to build the schools, he said, resolves "a formidable challenge that has eluded a solution for the better part of three years."

As the district has proceeded with its plans to build 160 new schools by 2012 at a cost of $14 billion, it has stumbled in East Los Angeles. An attempt to build a school next to Belvedere Park failed two years ago after county officials said the district failed to adequately address the issues of traffic, parking and crime. The district in turn accused community leaders, including county Supervisor Gloria Molina, who represents the area, of failing to support the project.

So district officials seemed relieved Friday that they had received the blessing of some community leaders who had opposed the original plan, as well as activist groups that had rallied for a quick solution. Some of those leaders stood behind De Paz as he announced the proposal, which must be approved by the Los Angeles Board of Education.

Church groups, community leaders and student organizations have worked hard "to ensure that young people of the next generation have a future they can be proud of," said Luis Sanchez, director of Inner City Struggle, a Boyle Heights-based group that pushes for education reform.

Sanchez said that the four acres of housing and commercial property the district would seek to acquire near Hammel represented the smallest property seizure of any proposals that had been suggested for the new high school. Under the plan, the campus on the former Hammel site would have 68 classrooms and about eight acres of open space for sports fields and other uses.

For the new elementary school, the district will purchase the land where it now leases the Eastside Learning Center space. The school built on that site will have space for 1,000 elementary students as well as seven early-education classrooms.

District officials said they did not know how much it would cost to build the schools. But under standard estimations used by the district, based on the number of seats per schoolit would run about $100 million and be funded through bonds.

Molina was unavailable for comment Friday. But a spokeswoman, Roxane Marquez, said the supervisor wanted to make sure that any home or business relocation resulting from the school swap was conducted responsibly. "We want to reduce overcrowding, but it is important to the community that the relocation go smoothly, with their knowledge and consent."

A representative for Molina will be at a community meeting to discuss the plan at 6:30 p.m. Thursday on the Garfield campus. "If the community supports this plan, we are behind it," Marquez said.

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