Wednesday, September 17, 2008


By Melissa Pamer, Staff Writer | DAILY BREEZE

Article Launched: 09/16/2008 10:13:57 PM PDT

Sept 17, 2008 -- Los Angeles Unified officials received a shock at a crowded meeting Monday to discuss plans for a new elementary school in Playa Vista: Residents love it.

It's on the perfect site and it will make Playa Vista more complete, they said.

They want it to open as soon as possible.

"We don't get this a lot," said LAUSD development team manager Susan Cline, to laughter.

District officials appeared both pleased and slightly taken aback by the crowd, which offered overwhelmingly positive comments about plans for a 650-student K-5 school. The officials' reaction wasn't surprising, given the angry nature of some audiences they've faced recently.

In the South Bay and Harbor Area - and in other regions within the 704-square-mile district - community resistance often has greeted plans for new schools funded by $13.6 billion in construction bonds. A high school planned near Angels Gate Park in San Pedro and a Wilmington K-8 school have been particularly contentious.

But plans for an environmentally "green" campus on 4 acres abutting a bluff below Loyola Marymount University have been well received. On Monday, the parents of almost a dozen toddlers and babies - potential students for the school - brought their children to the meeting.

"As opposed to having people who live across the street objecting, we're enthusiastic," said Jeanne Obert, a five-year resident of Playa Vista, the mega-development that opened on former Hughes Aircraft land in 2003.

Residents have moved into about 3,000 of the planned 3,246 units in the project's first phase, a spokesman for Playa Vista said. Public elementary school students from the development currently attend Loyola Village and Playa del Rey elementary schools.

The new school - which many children could walk to - would ensure that those campuses can reduce class sizes and remain on a two-semester calender, officials said.

Last week, the district issued a preliminary environmental impact report for the project. That document and the design for the solar-paneled, multicolor campus were reviewed at Monday's meeting, where comments in support of the school repeatedly drew applause.

Residents did have some concerns about the new school: noise from construction, the impact on traffic, the effects of the methane zone underneath the campus and the broader residential development.

But most who spoke seemed more concerned with whether the district has sufficient funding for the $32 million project, whether the school could get derailed, and whether their children would be able to attend.

"As far as opposition to the project goes, we really haven't had very much," said district project manager Gwenn Godek.

There was one critic at Monday's meeting - a teacher at Marina del Rey Middle School who said her campus couldn't get funding for a new coat of paint or to repair student lockers. She wanted to know: How could the district afford a brand new campus when it can't pay for the basics?

Officials explained that voter-approved construction bond money can only be used on certain projects, typically new schools. Measure Q, the $7 billion bond measure on the November ballot, would address some existing facilities, officials said.

Other than that, some minor initial opposition to the Playa Vista school - largely from critics of the residential development, officials said - seems to have melted away. After a preliminary study for the school was issued in April, the district received no comments against the project, Godek said.

At Monday's meeting, LAUSD officials said methane mitigation measures will be more stringent at the school than those built at Playa Vista residences, which have a warning system for methane gas contamination.

First proposed 15 years ago as part of the city's agreement with the developers of Playa Vista, the school was was given preliminary authorization by the LAUSD Board of Education in 2006.

Under the district's current timeline, construction would begin in spring 2010. The school would open for the 2012-13 academic year.

That apparently won't be soon enough for some Playa Vista parents.

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