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Historic L.A. hotel's got class.

Los Angeles Unified School District first eyed the abandoned Ambassador Hotel as a fine place to locate a school back in 1989. Today the project temporarily known as Heritage K-12 Option bears a tentative start date of 2006.

"Few sites we buy come unencumbered," admits Edwin Van Ginkel, senior development manager for new construction at LAUSD. "But this is the first property with significant cultural issues to navigate. Emotions play high." Among other things, it was the place where Senator Robert E Kennedy was assassinated.

In Round I, the school district tried to use its power of eminent domain to condemn the historic property. Property owners battled, while spending the district's $48 million good-faith deposit to pay down debt. After two years, LAUSD stepped out of the deal--and then the tables turned. The declining real estate market prompted the owners to beg for condemnation.

That torched an eight-year battle in which the district tried to get its money back and stave off the Los Angeles Conservancy preservation group, which sued LAUSD to stop any future razing

The story ends happily, sort of: By 2001, the conservancy preferred for the school district to hold the title over demolishment-minded bidders like Donald Trump anda local housing developer. "The conservancy felt we'd listen more thoughtfully to their appeals," Van Ginkel reports.

Indeed, the district agreed to a compromise. The hotel's famous Coconut Grove nightclub, once home to the Oscars, will become the school auditorium. The coffee shop built by locally noted architect Paul Revere Williams will be a teacher's lounge. And the shopping promenade will live on--as storefront facades within the cafeteria. Van Ginkel says the district is consulting a panel of presidential and U.S. history experts to deal respectfully with the assassination location. Currently, it's unprogrammed space.

In all, negotiations have added $15 million to the bill--but that's better than socking $100,000 million extra into keeping the bedrooms, too, in Van Ginkel's book. As of late November 2004, the conservancy disagreed, slapping yet another lawsuit into the fray over the fate of that main building.

"This is a classic example of two very important public policy issues conflicting," Van Ginkel points out. More than 4,000 students live within nine blocks of the hotel; duplicating the 23 acres would mean plowing over hundreds of apartment buildings and businesses. "So yes, the cost is great in terms of cultural impact," he says. "But the cost of choosing another school site in this area would be even greater."
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Title Annotation:Construction dispatch: the latest trends in school facilities and construction
Author:Sturgeon, Julie
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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