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THE 6.6 QUAKE : On the Rebound: A Guide to Recovery and Resources : An Education in Disaster : The quake collapsed school walls, toppled ceilings and destroyed equipment. The cleanup is expected to cost more than $700 million.

January 23, 1994|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ and MAYERENE BARKER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The road to recovery will be slow and hard for schools damaged by last Monday's magnitude 6.6 earthquake, which caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to campuses in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

If school officials have any advice for parents, it is to be patient.

"I know it is trying, you want to get your kids in school, you want to get them some good supervision," Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Sid Thompson said. "But our No. 1 priority is safety, and then getting kids back for an education."

At a time when school districts are grappling with the most massive budget shortages in history, they now must also cope with the formidable task of cleaning up and rebuilding after the devastating temblor, which collapsed classroom walls, toppled ceilings, destroyed equipment and knocked bungalows off their foundations.

To make matters worse, it remained unclear whether schools had the resources and personnel--electricians, plumbers and other trained workers--to deal with the mounting reports of damage.

"We're now seeing losses we weren't even aware of on Monday or Tuesday," one weary administrator said.

In the hard-hit Los Angeles district, about 300 of its 640 schools sustained damage, 108 of those in the San Fernando Valley. Thompson announced Friday that 97 schools will remain closed indefinitely. All those schools are located west of the 405 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley. No public schools in the West San Fernando Valley will be open.

District officials said they are hoping that safe portions of the 97 campuses--where 100,000 children are enrolled--can be opened soon.

Staff at West Valley campuses will meet Monday with building inspectors to discuss how long it may take to prepare a portion of their schools for students. Many schools had no water or power, and at least 300 classrooms were deemed unusable.

"The damage in the Central and West Valley is severe, but we believe that we will be able to operate parts of those campuses," Thompson said. "We do not believe at this time that we have a school (that is) totally inoperative."

Leticia Quezada, school board president, said the district wants to reopen all schools as soon as possible. But, most importantly, she said, "We want to make sure students are safe."

If schools have to be closed for "any length of time," she said, district officials will transfer students to other facilities as soon as possible.

"We're going to make every effort to convince state and federal officials that

we need lots of money yesterday" so that damaged schools can be repaired, Quezada said. It will take at least $700 million to repair the schools, according to district estimates.

About 250,000 of the district's 640,000 students will return to campuses that are habitable but will be in disarray or have unsafe areas. The unsafe sections will be cordoned off to ensure pupils' safety.

The district was also devising emergency plans to route school buses around the region's quake-ravaged thoroughfares. Six hundred bus routes serve the Valley, which receives thousands of students from overcrowded, inner-city campuses.

U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, who will tour damaged schools today, said his department "is fully committed to making sure that we do everything necessary to help restore the Los Angeles schools."

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