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Building Up for Education

September 09, 1987

When California land was both cheap and plentiful, one-story schools that sprawled in all directions made sense. But today, particularly in the case of urban schools, tall might be better than sprawl.

A legislative measure--AB 1700, sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles)--would encourage multistory schools that would require less land and thus less money to build.

The state finances a lion's share of school construction under a formula that typically allows 10 acres per 500 elementary students. In parts of Los Angeles, one acre starts at $1 million, and 10 adjoining vacant acres are virtually impossible to find. The Roos bill would in effect allow districts to finance the additional cost of building taller schools with money that is now set aside for land.

This incentive would lead to more classrooms for the dollar, and would also spare thousands of homes and businesses now targeted for demolition to make room for expanding schools--particularly in densely populated neighborhoods with climbing enrollments.

The bill would place no limit on the heights of the new schools, but they would not likely be skyscrapers. State guidelines, earthquake precautions, cost and practicality would limit the buildings to three or four stories.

California's school enrollment is growing. The Los Angeles Unified School District adds 14,000 students a year. More schools are needed. Building up is one economical way to get them. The Legislature should approve, and the governor should sign into law, the multistory-schools bill.

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