The opening of a sorely needed high school in a converted Department of Water and Power office building in Sun Valley will be delayed by more than a year as workers remove mold that could pose health hazards, school officials said.
The top two floors of the four-story Anthony Office Building were scheduled to open in September to help relieve overcrowding at Francis Polytechnic High School across the street on Arleta Avenue. But with the discovery of mold, the opening has been delayed until July 2003.
Although a link has not been scientifically proven, mold has been blamed for allergies, migraines and respiratory problems. It has plagued school districts nationwide and is considered a serious problem, school officials said.
The mold discovered on stairway walls in the DWP building is believed to be caused by water that leaked from a glass atrium. Exponent Consultants, the firm hired by the DWP two weeks ago to evaluate the building, determined that the walls must be replaced, said Hal Lindsey, DWP's director of corporate health and safety.
Though the yearlong wait will hamper the Los Angeles Unified School District's expansion plans, officials said, caution about the mold was the only option. The district learned a tough lesson about caution with the controversial Belmont Learning Complex, which was built on land emitting hazardous gas.
"There's always something," said school board President Caprice Young of the district's difficulties in providing new schools. "The good news is that everyone is acting responsibly."
Francis Poly High has an enrollment of 3,600, on a campus built for 3,000. About 300 to 400 students are bused to other campuses.
The new school, which was bought from the DWP for $50 million, would have accommodated 800 students in September and 400 more several months later, said Judy Burton, superintendent of the district's northeast Valley area.
"We're disappointed that we're not starting [this year]," Burton said. "But I am much more happy to have the problem completely corrected before we move staff and students into the building."
The building's first three floors are still being used by the DWP as administrative offices. Lindsey said air samples have found the building to be safe for the DWP workers. Nevertheless, he said, it was necessary to inspect the building and replace walls because mold has become an emotional issue for students, parents and educators.
The unorthodox sharing of the complex was designed so that students and DWP workers would have separate entrances to the site and would not interfere with one another.
The district has not built a high school since 1971. The Sun Valley school would have been one of the first of 23 high schools planned for completion by 2007.
To ease overcrowding, the district plans to open 85 new schools by that date.