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New Plan to Be Proposed for Belmont

Officials are expected to urge that high school structures be built on another part of the site.

March 18, 2003|Solomon Moore and David Pierson | Times Staff Writers

Officials in the Los Angeles Unified School District are expected today to recommend that unfinished high school buildings on a seismic fault at the Belmont Learning Complex be used for other purposes or sold.

Under the new proposal, another set of classroom buildings would rise on the western 12 acres of the 35-acre property and house about 1,500 students, less than half the enrollment previously planned, according to a school board member and other officials. If the existing buildings are not sold, they could be used as offices or an adult school, they said.

For several months, such a plan was viewed as less painful than other options, which included abandoning the site next to the Harbor Freeway near downtown or trying to retrofit the buildings for extra seismic safety.

"The notion is that that part of the site appears to be safe and appears to be unchallenged," said a district official who asked not to be named. "They could build a high school over there."

The district has spent about $175 million on the troubled campus, which was stopped first three years ago by pollution problems and then three months ago by the discovery of a small earthquake fault directly below two of six unfinished buildings.

School board member David Tokofsky said that district Supt. Roy Romer called all seven school board members Sunday and described such a plan only in general terms. Tokofsky complained that details remained sparse in the brief call.

"I got three minutes the night before with no emphasis on safety, budget or timeline .... Three minutes on a $300-million project," Tokofsky said Monday.

Romer is expected to outline the plan at a community meeting at 6 p.m. tonight at Gratts Elementary School, 309 Lucas Ave.

Stephanie Brady, a district spokeswoman, said she and Romer declined Monday night to comment on any specifics of the Belmont plan. "It's really important that the community has the first opportunity to hear what the proposals are," she said.

Other school board members could not be reached for comment or did not return phone calls.

Under the plan, the unfinished structures could be sold to a developer or retained for other district uses that would not violate state rules that ban children in classes very close to seismic faults, officials familiar with the proposal said. "There are other non-K-12 uses that could be appropriate, like adult school," said one official, who also requested not to be identified.

The school board would have to approve any plan for the school, which was previously stalled because of underground gases from old oil wells. In December, as plans were at hand to revive the project and develop methods to safely vent toxic gases, the district stopped the project again because of the fault about 725 feet below the surface. The fault was discovered during a probe to find a way to mitigate the gases.

Romer previously had hoped to revive the full project, which is needed to relieve overcrowding at nearby Belmont High School.

But after the fault was found, the board discussed the future of Belmont, and Romer said he had sensed "more preference" for the plan to rebuild on the 12 westerly acres. At the time, he suggested that such a plan would cost $45 million for a 1,500-student campus and $60 million to house 2,000.

In early March, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley announced that no evidence of any crimes had been found during a two-year investigation into the Belmont project. Prosecutors concluded that the site contained no hazardous waste, developers had not tried to conceal the gases, and contractors had not overbilled during its construction.

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