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Belmont High Project Wins Board Approval

The campus, now called Vista Hermosa, will have two new buildings and a community park. An East L.A. high school is OKd too.

June 23, 2004|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

As part of its efforts to ease overcrowding in center-city schools, the Los Angeles school board gave final approval Tuesday to the long-troubled Belmont High School Project and approved plans to build a high school in East Los Angeles.

A slightly different board had voted last May to revive the Belmont project and put an additional $111 million into completing the school, which sits above an old oil field and a recently discovered earthquake fault. Officials have estimated that the district already has spent $175 million on Belmont, making it the most expensive high school in state history.

On Tuesday, the board gave final approval to a reconfigured campus -- now called Vista Hermosa -- by certifying the project's environmental impact report, which signals that potential impacts have been considered and mitigated.

"The facts are winning over fear," said board President Jose Huizar, who pushed the Vista Hermosa compromise last year. "This district is delivering its promises. A lot is at stake."

The district plans to demolish two school buildings directly above the fault line, add two new ones elsewhere on the property, finish four partly built structures and create a community park and soccer field.

Also Tuesday, the board approved a site for the construction of a 2,300-seat high school in unincorporated East Los Angeles. The school, which will help to ease overcrowding at Garfield High School, will be built on the site of Hammel Street Elementary School. Hammel, an aging school badly in need of repair, will be rebuilt about a quarter of a mile away on the site of the Eastside Learning Center, an adult school that will be moved elsewhere.

Schools Supt. Roy Romer praised both projects as integral to the district's plan to build 160 schools in the district over the next 10 years.

He said he believed in the safety of the Vista Hermosa school site, which will be fitted with environmental monitoring systems and vents to release any methane gas trapped beneath the site.

"The state of California will not support it to be built unless it is safe," Romer said.

Students, community activists and representatives of public officials spoke in support of the project. Many said they had been waiting decades for the new school, which will serve 2,600 students on a traditional two-semester schedule.

"Our classrooms are very overcrowded," said Yulia Orozco, a student at the current Belmont High School, slated to eventually be converted to a middle school. "I hope you hear our voices, the students' voices, so we can get ahead."

The Vista Hermosa project will include a two-acre soccer field area, to be operated in conjunction with the YMCA, and eight acres of parkland, managed with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Some residents objected to those partnerships, but the board said that the benefits outweighed any drawbacks.

Joseph T. Edmiston, chief of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, praised the board's trailblazing effort to work with the community to build a park on the school site.

Children visiting Vista Hermosa, he said, are going to have a "direct connection with real nature ... right next to a learning environment."

The district plans to begin demolition this fall and finish the project by May 2007.

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