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LAUSD BOARD VOTES TO COMPLETE BELMONT.

Byline: Helen Gao Staff Writer

To the cheers of residents, the Los Angeles school board voted Thursday to complete the twice-abandoned Belmont Learning Center, along with a park and two other new buildings that will push the total cost to nearly $300 million.

The 4-3 vote marked the Los Angeles Unified School District's third attempt to complete Belmont, which is located atop an earthquake fault and a former oil field seeping potentially dangerous gases in downtown Los Angeles. Dubbed the nation's costliest school, the project has already exceeded $166 million and the new plan will add $111 million to that.

``It means my daughter will be able to attend a school in her community,'' resident Edith Gonzalez said. ``It's more than 20 years this community has been waiting for this. It's finally here.''

Gonzalez and other residents of the largely low-income, Latino neighborhood convinced the majority of the board that the need for a new school outweighed serious environmental problems at the site.

``This is about making real the promise of educational, social justice, equity and access,'' board member Genethia Hudley Hayes said before casting a yes vote.

The board approved a plan - advocated by district Superintendent Roy Romer and Mayor James Hahn - calling for a 2,100-seat high school, 500-seat learning academy, library/auditorium building, parent center and 10- to 12-acre park.

The district plans to pay for the project with a combination of fees from citywide developments and money from the $3.3 billion Measure K bond issue to build the academy. The land for the park will be leased to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for $1 a year.

Although district officials had pledged in the past not to use Measure K money for Belmont, Romer defended the switch Thursday, saying the academy is a new element of the Belmont project.

Romer, who crusaded to resurrect the Belmont project as soon as he joined the district in July 2000, was jubilant at a press conference following the vote.

``This is over the hump. This is going to happen,'' he said.

Amid the jubilation, however, some board members expressed continued concerns about the environmental safety of Belmont.

``I really wanted to be able to vote for Belmont. It's a great plan, it's going to be a beautiful school and gorgeous park, but ultimately I just didn't feel comfortable about the safety,'' said board President Caprice Young, who supported reviving Belmont in March 2002 but later changed her mind after an earthquake fault was discovered under the site.

Board member David Tokofsky noted the latest proposal for Belmont was put together at the last minute without a detailed analysis of the issues that have long plagued the project.

``The price and the environmental issues are the same as they have ever been - not fully understood,'' he said.

But Romer vowed that Belmont will be safe, saying that ventilation systems and monitoring gauges will installed on the campus to manage the potentially explosive gases.

``We are going to build this exactly to the requirements of the state of California and the requirements of the Department of Toxic Substances Control,'' he said.

Under the plan approved by the board, two half-completed buildings that sit directly atop the earthquake fault would be demolished. Other existing structures would be transformed into a 2,100-seat high school, with a parent center at Beaudry Avenue and 1st Street.

Two more buildings would be added - a 500-seat academy and one housing a cafeteria, library, auditorium and student union.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy would lease the rest of the property from the district - 10 to 12 acres - for $1 a year. It plans to develop a park that will include a lake, soccer field, outdoor amphitheater, wetlands and picnicking areas.

HOW THEY VOTED:

The LAUSD board voted Thursday to complete the Belmont Learning Center at a cost of $111 million.

Voting yes: Marlene Canter, Jose Huizar, Genethia Hudley Hayes and Mike Lansing.

Voting no: Caprice Young, David Tokofsky and Julie Korenstein.

CAPTION(S):

box, map

Box:

HOW THEY VOTED (see text)

Map:

Belmont Learning Center - Proposed high school academy - Proposed Vista Hermosa Park - Proposed auditorium, cafeteria, library and student union - Active fault line

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 23, 2003
Words:699
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