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MOLDY BUILDING A COSTLY LESSON NEIGHBORS HATE HIGH SCHOOL PLAN.

Byline: Susan Abram Staff Writer

SUN VALLEY - The long-touted plan to build a much-needed high school at the site of the trouble-plagued Anthony Office Building has run into yet another problem, and it could cost taxpayers $20 million more in school construction costs.

The expensive change of plans tops a list of problems associated with the mold-infested structure that many groups criticized Los Angeles Unified School District officials for purchasing from the city Department of Water and Power for $37 million in 2004, years after the environmental problems were identified.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said if the LAUSD board drops the high school plan later this month, it would give taxpayers another reason to question the district's ability to manage its $14 billion school construction program.

``I don't want to be so inflexible that you can't change your plans, but it's consistent with (LAUSD's) past history of 'ready, fire, aim' instead of 'ready, aim, fire.'''

District officials insisted on acquiring the building - across the street from overcrowded Polytechnic High - to open what they called a desperately needed high school in northeast San Fernando Valley.

The idea was to move as many as 1,000 students into the building by July 2002, but the discovery of mold forced the district to plan to demolish the structure and build a new high school at the site.

But plans to raze the building later this year and build a $54 million high school on the 31-acre site have riled the community. Residents say building a brand new high school so close to a World War II-era campus would create a fierce, cross-street rivalry.

The concerns have prompted the school board to consider building a middle school at the site, to house students from Byrd Middle School about six blocks away. The current Byrd campus would then be converted for a high school at a cost of about $20 million.

``It was a bad idea from the get-go to put a new high school across the street from an old one,'' said Sun Valley resident Mike O'Gara.

A member of the Sun Valley Neighborhood Council, O'Gara was among more than 100 residents who signed a petition in September to ask the school board to reconsider plans. Residents were concerned that two high schools would fill the area with 7,000 students when school let out. They also worried that close proximity would lead to fights.

``We were concerned about the competitive nature of the high school students,'' O'Gara said. ``If you save one child from a violent altercation that might permanently damage him, its worth $20 million.''

While some school board members support the middle school plan, others say they need more information before deciding next month.

The issue boils up just two weeks before voters will be asked to support a bond measure for nearly $4 billion, the fourth school bond measure since voters passed Proposition BB in 1997. The LAUSD is a few years into a $14 billion school-construction effort aimed at relieving overcrowding so all schools can be placed on traditional September-through-June calendars.

``We need schools, and we have to do that in the best way, but we can't do it illogically,'' said board member Julie Korenstein, who referred to the Anthony building three years ago as a nightmare. ``It sounds like it's more money, but if we're providing more seats for children, and providing it safely, than I can live with the idea.''

Analysts in the district's facilities department say the Anthony site is suitable for a high school, but propose an alternative to address community concerns.

If the school board decides to build a middle school there instead of a high school, it would not require changing the design, said Edwin Van Ginkel, the LAUSD's senior development manager for new construction.

``If the board decided to move forward with a high school, it would be a really nice high school,'' Van Ginkel said. ``If they decided to move forward with a middle school, the students would have the benefit of additional science labs.''

The issue comes after three years of declining enrollment within the district. In that time, charter school enrollment has risen sharply.

Still, school officials say the district is making up for 30 years of delayed school construction. A citizens committee tasked with keeping an eye on how the LAUSD is spending bond money supports the middle school proposal at the Anthony building site.

``Could we be spending it better? I don't know. I have said for a long time we cannot just be building classrooms,'' said Scott Folsom, vice president of the Bond Oversight Committee. ``We need to be taking the shift of demographic needs into consideration. This (plan) is a pristine solution.''

Staff Writers Naush Boghossian and Rachel Uranga contributed to this story.

Susan Abram, (818) 713-3664

susan.abram(at)dailynews.com

HOW IT WAS

Here are highlights of the history of the Anthony Office Building:

1992 - The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power constructs the 300,000-square-foot Anthony Office Building, 850 Arleta Blvd., with a total cost of $70 million.

October 1997 - The DWP announces it will lay off about 2,000 of its 9,000 workers, transfer many of the employees from the Anthony Office Building downtown and sell or lease the building.

May 1998 - Then-City Councilwoman Laura Chick proposes using the four-story building as a new Los Angeles Police Department station or as the LAPD's Valley headquarters.

May 1999 - City administrators suggest using the building for a Valley 911 dispatch facility, which was supposed to have been built with a 1992 bond issue. The plan is ultimately rejected because of seismic safety concerns.

September 2000 - The Los Angeles Unified School District announces it is close to signing a $50 million deal to buy the building for a high school campus.

July 2001 - City officials back down from an effort to stall the deal because of the school district's involvement in an unrelated lawsuit against the DWP.

August 2001 - The City Council approves selling the building to the school district for $50 million. The district plans to convert part of the property into a 900-student high school that would alleviate crowding at adjacent Francis Polytechnic High beginning in July 2002; the DWP would lease back two-thirds of the building for a decade.

September 2001 - The presence of mold in three stairwells of the office building is revealed, and the DWP spends $500,000 on remediation efforts. The problem delays the anticipated opening of the school until 2003. DWP officials blame the mold problem on a construction defect.

May 2003 - After trying to fix mold problems, the school board agrees to pay the reduced price of $37 million for the Anthony Office Building under a plan to demolish it and then build a high school, and possibly a middle school, from the ground up.

February 2004 - The school district finalizes the purchase of the site, with plans to build a $56 million, 1,600-student high school that would be complete by September 2007.

October 2005 - School district officials consider abandoning the high school plan because of community concerns about a rivalry with Francis Polytechnic. A new plan calls for building a middle school, which would house students now being taught at nearby Byrd Middle School. The Byrd campus would be converted to a high school.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Oct 27, 2005
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