The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education decided on Dec. 17 that students from two schools in Porter Ranch would be relocated to two new sites amid growing concerns about a leaking gas well at the nearby Aliso Canyon storage facility in the Santa Susana Mountains above Porter Ranch. District officials said the gas leak disrupted student learning because of an increasing number of student and teacher absences caused by the health effects of the gas leak.
Since the board’s vote, crews have been working days, nights and weekends, only taking Christmas Day off, to transform two school sites about 8 miles away into satellite campuses for the two Porter Ranch schools.
School district officials said the scope of the work would normally take six months.
“I’m not surprised, but I’m delighted that the cooperation amongst all of the different organizations in the city has allowed us to successfully complete a project that people would have probably argued was impossible, but we’ve made it happen,” said Vivian Ekchian, local superintendent of the northwest district.
School district officials Monday morning gave the media a tour of the construction, which includes installation of new portable classrooms, supplying lighting, heating and air conditioning to the portables, installing asphalt and establishing parking and pickup and drop-off areas.
The district has taken great pains to ensure students will feel the familiarity of their old classrooms at the new sites. On average, about 75 workers have been involved in the relocation.
Students will sit at the same desks. Teachers will have the same projectors and teaching materials. Classrooms will have the same books in their libraries.
“We want to make sure that it’s as close to the way that it was at the previous school as possible, so that when they come and start on Jan. 12, they don’t miss a beat instructionally,” said Michael Romero, executive officer of the Office of Educational Services, who has acted as a project manager of the relocation.
Construction is expected to be completed Wednesday. Teachers will unpack their classrooms on Friday and Monday to prepare for student’s return to school on Tuesday. The district is hoping to offer parents a tour of the new school sites Monday afternoon.
School district officials could not provide information on how much the relocation process has cost the district. The board will seek those funds from the gas company. The school board also authorized the district’s general counsel to initiate litigation against SoCalGas if necessary to recover costs and damages.
About three weeks ago, the county Department of Public Health directed the gas company to work with LAUSD during the relocation process.
LAUSD school board member Scott Schmerelson, who represents the area, said he doesn’t foresee any problems when students return to school. He said every detail has been worked out from after-school programs to busing.
“I think they will be amazed, amazed when they come to this campus,” Schmerelson.
Castlebay Lane Charter School, which holds about 770 students, will attend Sunny Brae Avenue Elementary School in Canoga Park, and Porter Ranch Community School, a school of 1,100 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, will attend Northridge Middle School.
The elementary level students from Porter Ranch at Northridge Middle School will be placed in 36 portable classrooms that were newly installed on the southeast portion of the middle school campus. Middle school students from Porter Ranch will be in classrooms in the main campus of the school, but will be in the same portion of the school.
Some teachers from Northridge Middle School had to move their classrooms so that Porter Ranch students could be in the same area.
The schools will have staggered schedules to ease drop-off and pickup traffic.
Castlebay Lane students will be housed in 14 new portable classrooms on the Sunny Brae campus.
The district will have buses that will pick up and drop off students at the Porter Ranch schools to and from the new school sites.