A Latino advocacy group is drafting a proposal to complete the stalled Belmont Learning Complex, solve its environmental problems and turn the campus near downtown Los Angeles into a privately run charter high school.
Alliance for a Better Community, a nonprofit organization that supports Latino education, is gathering environmental engineers, architects, contractors, insurance firms and managers of charter schools to present a proposal to the Los Angeles Unified School District, the alliance's president, Ed Avila, said Tuesday.
"Our focus is clear: It's getting seats for children to sit in so they can be educated," Avila said.
The group, which Avila said is still being formed, must present its plan by Sept. 24, the deadline the school board has set for proposals for the site. Four parties have purchased blueprints of the building from the district, spokeswoman Stephanie Brady said, suggesting that other organizations and firms may submit proposals for the half-finished Belmont complex. She declined to identify the four.
The $200-million complex for 4,500 students was to have eased overcrowding at the area's other high schools, but construction was stopped in January 2000 amid a bitter debate about the safety of its location. The 35-acre site, located on a former oil field, seeps potentially explosive methane. Some experts say the gas can be safely vented while others insist no school should be built on the land, which is just west of the Harbor Freeway.
Avila, the former chief of Los Angeles' redevelopment agency and a leader behind City Hall's restoration, pointed out that much of the city is built on onetime oil fields.
"We wouldn't do anything that we thought was going to harm children, period," he said. "Nor can anybody have the audacity to suggest that those parents from that neighborhood would send their children somewhere unsafe."
The alliance's proposal has no price tag yet, said Avila, who was circumspect about possible funding and other details.
The plan would create a "high-performing school for the community," said Anita Landecker, executive director of Excellent Education Development, a manager of local charter schools and one of the organizations working on the plan. Students would attend class more hours per day, more days per year, she said.
The district would not operate the high school. Charter schools are funded by public districts but are permitted to operate independently.
Landecker said she expects the idea of opening Belmont as a charter school will appeal to the district, which is concerned about its legal liability for anything that is put there. District Supt. Roy Romer agreed that a charter school could be attractive to the Board of Education, which will decide what to do with Belmont.
"It gives a little degree of separation, and I think everybody feels comfortable about it," said Romer, who added that he is not favoring a particular proposal at this point.
But he emphasized that he would be disappointed if the school plan is abandoned and the site devoted entirely to offices or stores.