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Caltrans Will Pay $341,714 to Resolve School Suit

December 15, 1988|LUCILLE RENWICK | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — The state Department of Transportation has agreed to pay nearly $342,000 to the Downey Unified School District, which had filed a lawsuit to try to recover costs of protecting students from dust and noise from construction of the Century Freeway.

The lawsuit settlement, announced last week, concluded 9 months of negotiations between the district and Caltrans.

District Supt. Edward A. Sussman said the construction noise and dust contributed to a 25% decline in third-grade scores on standardized tests in the 1987-88 school year at Ward Elementary School, located about 400 yards from the freeway construction area.

Before an air-conditioning unit was installed in August, teachers were forced to conduct classes with windows and doors closed, Sussman said. "Sometimes it would be so hot that the kids couldn't concentrate and they had to open at least a window. Then the dust would come through and the noise would be so loud they couldn't hear the teacher."

Kindergarten students also have felt the effects of the construction, Ward Principal Linda Kennedy said. "Their playground is back-to-back with the construction site. From time to time, clouds of dust have covered the kindergarten playground and forced the teachers to bring the students inside."

Students Bused for Safety

Caltrans agreed to pay $341,714 to cover increased transportation costs that resulted from the freeway construction, and to help pay for installation and operating costs of the new air-conditioning unit at Ward.

Sussman said students who normally walked to Ward and Carpenter elementary schools have been taken to school by bus to avoid "a critical construction zone." Road closures also forced the district to reroute buses and to build a $25,000 parking lot for teachers' cars, officials said.

Sussman said freeway construction in June is scheduled to be at a stage that will allow students to resume walking to school. The freeway is expected to be completed by 1993.

Caltrans also is planning to build a sound wall along the freeway site near Ward to help reduce construction noise.

The district's lawsuit, which was filed March 24 in Superior Court in Norwalk, had sought $900,000.

"The reason we settled is because we really think that going to court would just result in spending a lot of taxpayers' money," Sussman said.

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