Monday, October 20, 2008

$400M HIGH SCHOOL OPENS TEN YEARS BEHIND SCHEDULE  - Wire services contributed to this report

Oct 18, 2008 -- LOS ANGELES  -- The most expensive high school in Los Angeles history -- delayed for years because it was being constructed over potentially harmful gases -- opened Saturday near downtown.

A ribbon-cutting was held at the 2,808-student Roybal Learning Center at 1200 W. Colton Ave., which was to have been called Belmont High School until the $400 million construction project ran into problems.

When first proposed, the district hoped to complete the school for around $45 million.

Construction ground to a halt in 2000, when the school district learned that the site just west of downtown was honeycombed with old oil wells, and potentially harmful gases -- methane and hydrogen sulfide -- associated with petroleum were seeping to the surface.

However, local residents in the largely Latino neighborhood objected to shutting down the project, and it was eventually allowed to be completed -- at nearly 10 times its original projected cost.

Officials noted the new school will allow Belmont High a few blocks away to return to a two-semester calendar for the first time in 26 years, meaning students will not have to attend summer school.

"Had we abandoned our vision and listened to the naysayers, Belmont High School would still be operating on a year-round calendar," LAUSD Chief Facilities Executive Guy Mehula said. "Today is a crowning day for LAUSD's building program, and most importantly for the students and community our new school construction program serves."

"When the construction of this school was halted, the community was outraged, said Veronica Melvin, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Community. "Parents, students and community leaders rallied at the steps of the school board for years because we knew the school could be built safely, and the district needed to be held accountable for doing so."

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles was among those to cut a ribbon officially opening the school, which is named after her father, the late Congressman Edward R. Roybal.

"My father believed that education was the single greatest gift we could pass on to our children, because an education, as he would say, `can never be taken away from you,'" Roybal-Allard said. "That is why he fought throughout his career to provide our community with quality educational opportunities like the Roybal Learning Center will offer."

The LAUSD Board of Education was supported by numerous community organizations and elected officials in naming the school in honor of the Roybal (1916-2005), who was a prominent Latino civil rights leader who graduated from Roosevelt High School, served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1949 to 1962, and was a congressman from 1963 to 1993.

"By creating small schools and a safe campus for students, the new Roybal Learning Center carries on the legacy of a great pioneer dedicated to reforming education in Los Angeles," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

"Today we celebrate the legacy of our great civil rights leader Edward R. Roybal," LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia said. "We also honor the strength and courage of the hundreds of parents and students from the Pico-Union community who fought to bring this world-class school to their neighborhood. I am proud to be their partner as we strive to achieve 100 percent graduation for the students of LAUSD."

"Edward R. Roybal Learning Center is the kind of school facility all of our students deserve," said LAUSD Superintendent David L. Brewer III. "We are here celebrating today because people inside the district and out had the vision and tenacity to push forward in challenging times. That same vision and tenacity remains at work to bring continued progress for our students."

"After the vote was taken by the (LAUSD) board back in 2003 to approve my plan to move forward with this school, I recalled thinking that hope had won over fear," said Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar.

The former school board president came up with an alternative plan for the site, which included the adjacent Vista Hermosa Park.

"That was a very proud moment for me, knowing that this community and these children were finally going to get the state-of-the-art campus they so richly deserved," Huizar said. "And seeing it up and running today reminds me that we did the right thing to create this learning and community oasis."

The campus facilities are comprised of small learning communities, each including general studies, science, and specialized classrooms, as well as local administration. A separate building on the campus has a library, cafeteria, auditorium and a parent/student center. The campus also features a large gymnasium with locker rooms, as well as outdoor athletic facilities.

"The Edward R. Roybal Learning Center provides relief to some pockets of the Temple-Beaudry community that reach 50,000 people per square mile," said Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes, whose district includes the new school.

"Before the opening of the new school, students were on a multi-track calendar and packed in overcrowded classrooms," he said. "Now, students can enjoy a traditional two-semester calendar and a more personalized learning experience at a school that is like a mini college campus. The Roybal Center features small learning communities with lots of open windows, and stretches of green space for students to walk through on their way to class."

Roybal Learning Center will educate students in ninth through 12th grades and is home to four small learning communities and two independent pilot schools. The SLCs were established at Belmont High School and have moved their complete programs over to Roybal Learning Center.

The SLCs are the International School of Languages, the Activists for Educational Empowerment, the Business and Finance Academy and the Computer Science Academy. The two independent pilot schools are Civitas School of Leadership and the School for Visual Arts and Humanities.

Civitas School of Leadership opened with students in the ninth and 10th grade, and will add 11th and 12th grades in the next two years. The School for Visual Arts and Humanities begins with students ninth through 12th grades.

The schools are part of the Belmont Zone of Choice Initiative. First established in 2007, the Belmont Zone of Choice is a network of 500-student, autonomous college preparatory schools that downtown-area families can select based on students' interest.

The learning center is one of 74 new schools completed as part of LAUSD's $12.6 billion new school construction program to end involuntary busing and year-round calendars, and to provide every student a seat in a neighborhood school, according to the district.

To date, LAUSD has completed 74 new schools and 59 additions, providing more than 77,000 new classroom seats for students. School officials said the program is on track to deliver a total of 132 new schools by 2012.

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