CUDAHY — The Elizabeth Street Elementary School--a familiar landmark in this city for more than 70 years--will soon graduate its last class if the Los Angeles Unified School District has its way.
The district, as part of a plan to relieve student overcrowding in the Bell-Cudahy area, wants to remodel the venerable elementary school into a junior high. Cudahy officials, however, have vowed to fight the plan. Two weeks ago, they filed a lawsuit charging that the district's required environmental impact statement was inadequate.
"We're not opposed to having a junior high school in the city," Cudahy City Manager Gerald Caton said. "The question deals with the location of the junior high school."
To make room for the junior high, school officials say they will have to purchase at least 10 additional acres, anyway. But if they didn't use the existing school property, they would have to purchase nearly twice that. "We probably would be looking at displacing considerably more people (if another site is used)," Bob Niccum, director of real estate, said. "One of the board's highest priorities is minimizing that kind of displacement."
But Caton says that the junior high would exacerbate existing traffic problems in the area because it would enroll students who would have to commute from neighboring communities. (The proposed junior high would accommodate about 2,000 students, roughly the same as the existing elementary.)
The school is bordered on the north by Clara Street, a favorite of commuters because it is one of two in the city that crosses the Long Beach Freeway and the Los Angeles River. Parents dropping children off in the morning or picking them up in the afternoon generally stop on Clara Street, blocking rush-hour traffic, Caton said. He added that the environmental impact statement failed to address that issue.
However, what city officials fear most is that phasing out the Elizabeth Street school would create the need for a "replacement" elementary somewhere else in Cudahy. "The city could end up with four schools in a square mile," Caton said. In addition to the junior high and the elementary schools, Caton pointed to the Park Avenue Elementary School, as well as the new Bell Area No. 1 elementary school, which is under construction at Clara and Otis Avenue.
Noting that schools don't pay property taxes, Caton said that the plan could result in a loss of revenue for the city. Officials said that the plan also calls for the demolition of 152 apartments and two private homes near the school site. "That, in turn, would mean a loss of state subvention, the monies from the state which are based on population," Caton said.
Caton said the district hasn't been as cooperative with the city as it has been in the past. In particular, he said, the district worked intensively with Cudahy officials on the design of the Bell Area No. 1 Elementary School building and its location within the site. "We worked it out on that school site," he said. "There's no reason why we couldn't have worked it out on this other site."
Dominic Shambra, special projects officer for the school district, said there was plenty of cooperation between the two government entities--until Cudahy officials filed their suit.
"Obviously it would make me wonder if we have a cooperative agreement since the city filed a lawsuit," Shambra said. He said the district has yet to be served with a copy of the suit.
Shambra said district officials had "a number of meetings with the city" over the project, and had also written letters. He said the district was planning to put the replacement elementary school in Bell. Although he speculated that the school would be placed in the area near Florence and Wilcox avenues, he said district officials "have not cited any specific site at this point."
Caton said school officials had discussed with him the possibility of constructing the replacement elementary in a sector bounded on the north by Florence, on the west by Wilcox, and on the south by Live Oak Street.
"That is a site that has come up in conversation," said Bell City Administrator Byron Woosley. "It's something in the 'talking about' stage right now." Woosley added that "nothing has been decided yet."
To alleviate traffic problems, the district plans to construct a street between Elizabeth and Clara, Shambra said.
Shambra said the State Allocations Board, the agency that oversees funds for school construction, had granted the district $18 million for construction of the school. If they ask to change the site now, he continued, the agency could allocate that money to another school district and force them to reapply for funding.