Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou - Eastern Group Publications Staff Writer
June 12, 2008 - New sports fields, bright new classrooms, and maybe even that “new school smell” are on the horizon for Northeast Los Angeles.
Tractors descended on the old Taylor Yard property this Wednesday as construction began on a brand new high school for Glassell Park.
This centrally located, $161 million facility is long overdue for this neighborhood, say school officials and residents.
For one thing, students living in or around Glassell Park will no longer be bused to school’s outside of their neighborhoods once the high school is built.
“[The number one goal] is to bring back children to their community — not to force students to bus out of the area,” says Richard A. Alonzo, Superintendents of LAUSD. “Number two is to get all our schools to a traditional year calendar.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District expects to open the doors of Central Region High School #13 (HS13) in 2011. The new facility will relieve the overcrowded hallways and classrooms of Franklin, Eagle Rock, and Marshall High Schools.
Around 1000 of Marshall High’s 4000 students will be going to the new school, according Tom Calhoun, LAUSD Central Region Development Director. HS13 will also get around 400 students from Eagle Rock High and 600 students from Franklin High.
HS13 will provide an additional 85 classrooms for nearly 2,300 students attending on a traditional year schedule.
Year-round high schools such as Marshall and Eagle Rock will also be able to switch to a traditional, two-semester calendar once their student population goes down.
Franklin High School’s Spirit Squad Director Natalie Esber says the year-round school calendar squashes school spirit by splitting students into three different school years.
“We have kids that have never met each other, we have kids that do not know what is on going because they are off-track,” she says. “I am feeling we are going to be one school again and I believe it is going to help our morale, our spirit, our attendance.”
Franklin High School cheerleader Jeanette Parada, 16, says overcrowding affects their learning. “When we try learning something, it is hard to concentrate because there are so many people in the class and there is only one teacher… we really do not get the attention we deserve,” she says.
Not only is the district making more space for students, they have also scaled down their learning environment. HS13 will be among the newest schools in the district adopting “small learning communities.”
HS13 will be divided into five of these communities, each consisting of around 450 students.
School officials say these small communities are their solution to LAUSD’s past problems with large student populations. “It makes it very difficult to learn, it makes it very difficult for students to feel that they matter because there are so many kids. Nobody is developing relationships with them,” says Yolie Flores, Board Member, District 5.
Each small learning community will be taught by its own group of teachers, but the entire school will share a physical education facility, library, and cafeteria.
HMC Architect is responsible for the school’s design, which has garnered awards from the Coalition for Adequate School Housing and the American Institute of Architects.
The school has also been certified under the CHPS “green” standards, which is similar to LEEDS, according to LAUSD representatives. Because the school is located near the Taylor Yard State Park, the school is considered even greener
The general contractor for the Turner Construction will also be recruiting local, minority-owned subcontractors as the project progresses, according to LAUSD spokesperson Robert Gard.
The groundbreaking of HS13 is part of a district-wide effort to play catch-up on its overcrowding problems. For 30 years the Los Angeles Unified School District went through a dry spell during which no new schools were built even while the student population increased.
The spell finally broke in 2004 when the district began planning for the addition of 132 new schools under a major $20.3 billion New School Construction Program. More than half of those schools have been completed, while the rest are at various stages ranging from planning and under construction.
HS13 will reside on a 23.21 acre site that was once a rail yard. The community and its leaders considered the location ideal because it would not displace residents.
“It was conceded by everybody in the neighborhood that somewhere in the Taylor Yard area was the right place for a school,” says Scott Folsom, a Glassell Park parent and member of the LAUSD Bond Oversight committee.
But the process of buying the land from the property owner Legacy Partners came with its challenges.
The district almost lost the property when another party bought it out from under them. According to Folsom, it happened when the district thought it was close to signing a deal with the property owners.
“We were just at the point of dotting the ‘i’s’,” Folsom said.
It took a court ordered eminent domain procedure to finally secure the property from real estate company Meruelo Maddox, which is now saying that the value of the property has gone up since they bought it.
Meanwhile, the people most affected by the future high school are excited to finally have a high school in the Glassell Park area.
“It looks like we needed to have it done. It is a great thing,” says Dee Dee Paakkari, Orchestra teacher of the Performing Arts Academy at Marshall High School.
EGP Staff Writer Fabio Banegas contributed to this story.