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School District Offers 5 Closed Valley Campuses for Lease

PROPERTY VALUES / RON GALPERIN

June 09, 1992|RON GALPERIN

Need more room for the kids? How about a bigger yard, and maybe a library and gymnasium?

Well, the Los Angeles Unified School District may have just the fixer you've been looking for--assuming that you're in the market for a school building.

Five closed school sites in Woodland Hills and West Hills are being leased to the highest bidder at 9:30 a.m. today, although the buildings are basically limited to use as schools. If you're reading this early enough in the morning, it's not too late to rush downtown and make your offer. Otherwise, you'll have to wait for four other west San Fernando Valley schools that have leases expiring in 1993.

There are the neighbors to contend with, of course. Residents next to the schools being leased out by the district want to be sure that their quiet streets stay that way. At the same time, neighbors are a bit weary of living amid empty shells that have fallen victim to vandalism and overgrown landscaping.

Everybody involved is looking to maximize their property values. The school district wants to at least make some money on its empty schools. Potential tenants are looking to get a bargain. And, neighbors are watching to make sure that the lease deals benefit the neighborhood.

Blame it on the DINCs, said Robert J. Niccum, the district's director of real estate. Smaller family units with double-income-no-kids have changed the demographics of the West Valley, Niccum said. Schools that were needed in the "Brady Bunch" generation aren't cost-effective to keep open any more, he said. (In case you've forgotten, TV's "Brady Bunch" had six kids).

The irony is that in the East Valley, school officials are planning a whole list of new schools and, districtwide, there are barely enough chairs to keep up with the burgeoning school-age population.

The sites being leased out by the district include Collier Street and Collins Street elementary schools and Hughes Junior High School in Woodland Hills, and Enadia Way and Highlander Road elementary schools in West Hills. Four of the five schools have a minimum bid of $45,000 a year for rent. Hughes Junior High is going for a minimum of $65,000 a year. The leases vary from four to five years.

Already leased Los Angeles schools are being used as private schools by Pinecrest Schools in Chatsworth, Kadima Hebrew Academy and Lycee Francais de Los Angeles in Woodland Hills, and West Valley Christian School in West Hills.

Before you conclude that all these schools are being leased at rock-bottom rates, it's worth noting that the lessees are taking full responsibility for repairs, renovation and maintenance. Highlander, for example, has fire damage, floors and gas meters that need replacing, and possibly asbestos that would need to be removed. At Collier, the roof vents for heating and plumbing have been vandalized and the water may not flow because of a break in an underground water main.

Some of the sites have been empty for up to a decade, and there's plenty of work needed just to make the buildings safe.

Why not sell the schools? "It doesn't make sense as stewards of the public assets to sell off a school site," Niccum said. "It makes much more sense to lease them."

Besides, Niccum predicted, the schools will be needed by the district in the late 1990s due to crowding at schools in other parts of the district. For now, however, renting out the schools helps save the district money.

"A closed school is not a pretty sight; it draws vandals," Niccum said. "If I was living near a closed school, I'd rather have almost anything else going on."

Not everyone is so anxious to see the schools rented out, though.

"I know it's not good for the schools to be vacant, but we ought to have some say," said Rana Linka, owner of Century 21 Rana Linka & Co. in Woodland Hills and outgoing president of the West Hills Property Owners Assn. "The Board of Education is unfortunately pretty damn independent. They don't really care what happens in the Valley."

Niccum countered by saying that "Valley schools have the envy of the rest of the city."

The district continues to be strapped for funds, he added, and the board had little choice but to consolidate some of its schools. "They had fallen below the point where it's economical to keep them open."

Any new tenant needs a conditional use permit from the city. That means that residents will have a chance to voice their opinions at a public hearing.

Tom Morehouse, broker at Century 21 Victory Realty in Woodland Hills, doesn't think that renting out the schools will have much of an impact on the predominantly residential neighborhoods where they are located. "There are pluses and minuses. I don't think it significantly affects property values," he said.

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