NORTH HILLS — Hoping to stem the number of teen-agers who drop out of school to raise their children, the Los Angeles Unified School District will open the San Fernando Valley's second child-care center for high school students here early next year.
Scheduled to open Jan. 2, the facility at James Monroe High School will become one of only a handful situated on a district high school campus.
Tuesday, more than two dozen volunteers from Home Depot in Van Nuys swarmed through the once-dilapidated structure clutching hammers, saws, drills and paint brushes in a race to finish the interior. Outside, Principal Joan Elam choked back tears as she watched their labor transform her 3-year-old dream into reality.
"To have Home Depot come through, it's really . . . it's great," she said.
Geoff Parr, who supervised the volunteers' work, said they hoped to complete as much as 90% of the center by Tuesday evening. He estimated Home Depot had donated about $5,000 to $8,000 in materials to refurbish a building purchased for $1 from a Long Beach school district and moved to Monroe in 1994.
"I think the challenge of it is just making sure that everything is done safely," he said amid a cacophony of construction.
For volunteer K. C. Caiola, it was also a labor of love--she graduated from the school in 1979.
"When I heard they were doing something over at Monroe, I said, 'I have to go,' " she explained.
Once completed, the center will serve as many as 60 children, from 6 weeks to 5 years old, Elam said. Services will be offered on a sliding-scale basis and administrators hope to attract many of the 150 Monroe students who are already parents.
"Now we can provide you with the opportunity to continue your education," she said. "Your youngster will be safe here."
School board member Julie Korenstein, who inspected the site's progress in a brief visit Tuesday afternoon, praised Elam for her vision and said the center will become an important resource for teen-age parents in the Valley.
"I am delighted," she said, "because it means a lot of young people will be able to get back to school."
The facility will operate on an annual budget of about $500,000, said Sheila Derrig, executive director of LAUSD's child-development division.
"It's very costly because of the child-adult ratio" required by law, she said, adding that the center will provide about 14 or 15 jobs for staff members.
And while the center is evidence of the city's problem of children bearing children, administrators and volunteers alike described the project in largely positive terms.
"We're trying to turn the statistics around," Elam said. "I've got to hope and presume we'll decrease the dropout rate."