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Facility to Study Marine Life Included : School Board Has Big Plans for Ft. MacArthur

February 25, 1988|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Board of Education has instructed school district staff to develop a detailed plan to use 52 acres of the former Ft. MacArthur in San Pedro as an educational park that would include a facility for the care and study of marine animals.

The anchor of the project would be a marine animal facility that the district is planning with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, the publishing firm and theme-park operator that bought Marineland in 1986 and closed it last year.

The seven-person board agreed on Monday that a detailed plan for the site should be prepared and presented to the board for approval before March 31.

Risks Losing Land

The U. S. Department of Education has told the district that it risks loss of the property if it does not come up with an acceptable use plan by that date.

The federal government deeded the site to the district in 1979 with the stipulation that a high school be built on the land. Since then, federal officials have indicated that the district can retain the property if other acceptable educational uses for the site are found.

Joan Acosta, a consultant in the district's Office of Government Relations, said the district is eager to develop an acceptable proposal for using the land.

"It's ludicrous in this day and age to lose an asset," she said of the spectacular ocean-view site, formerly known as the upper reservation of Ft. MacArthur.

The property is currently the home of the district's San Pedro/Wilmington Skills Center, a vocational education facility for adults, and of Angel's Gate Continuation High School. The district will continue to operate these facilities on the site.

Educational Park

According to an 11-page "conceptual proposal" presented to the board, district staff foresees the site as a multipurpose educational park that could benefit all the students in the district. Activities there would include outdoor education programs year-round and a retreat program for potential dropouts.

The new marine animal facility, which would be funded by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, would include a laboratory/classroom and a round-the-clock emergency facility for the treatment of wounded or stranded marine animals.

Dominic Shambra, the district's administrator for special programs and activities, emphasized that the project would be educational in nature, not entertainment-oriented. "This won't be a petting zoo," Shambra said.

The proposal calls for creation of a nonprofit Foundation for Marine Animal Husbandry to coordinate the Ft. MacArthur project. The foundation's board of trustees would be responsible to the Los Angeles Board of Education.

Specific components of the project include:

Expansion of the vocational center's programs to include such harbor-oriented skills as marine animal care and net mending and repair.

Consolidation of the district's Student Integration Human Relations Program and relocation to the site. This program, which attempts to improve relations among ethnic groups, would bring diverse students together in the common study of marine life.

Weekend retreats for potential dropouts and their parents.

Establishment of a "green area" for creative, recreational and educational activities. This would be coordinated with the Angel's Gate master plan and other plans for using nearby sites.

Creation of a bird sanctuary and environmentally protected area.

Establishment of a child care center for parents using the site.

Building of the marine care facility, to include a laboratory and classroom space.

Linkage with one or more university marine biology departments. Undergraduate and graduate students would help teach schoolchildren about marine life. District officials said the University of Southern California is interested.

The preliminary proposal contained no estimates of the cost of the project or specific sources of funding. The board has requested such information, Shambra said.

Relocation on the site of programs now leasing facilities elsewhere would save the district some money. Legislative and grant funding could also be sought.

Shambra said the district has also been talking to corporations that might contribute. School officials have expressed a strong desire to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with business and industry on the project.

District officials said the chance to develop the educational potential of a relatively pristine site is especially exciting for an urban school district.

"We must find more green space," Acosta said, "a place for a child to be free, not just with his mind but with his body."

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