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Board Picks 4 Preferred Campus Sites

Most of the L.A. Unified selections -- in South L.A., Filipino Town, Hollywood and Pacoima -- draw impassioned groups of speakers.

September 22, 2004|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

For Puri Dehijar, a new middle school in South Los Angeles means neighborhood children would at last get a campus close to home.

Long daily bus rides to less-crowded schools outside the area make youngsters fatigued even before the first bell rings, Dehijar told the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday.

"They are tired, but nevertheless, we expect them to learn," the mother of four said in Spanish.

But for Octavio Salazar, a new 5.86-acre campus at Compton Avenue and Adams Boulevard would mean the loss of his auto-repair shop and restaurant as well as the uprooting of 29 families from their homes.

"I agree we need schools," said Salazar, who has lived or worked in the neighborhood nearly 30 years. "But the fact is, we're taking down the homes of people who have lived there for many years."

The board sided with Dehijar, and designated the land its preferred site for a middle school.

In addition to the South Los Angeles location, the school board picked three other sites for new schools. Most of the selections drew competing voices from communities that desperately need more classrooms, though they are expected to come at the cost of homes or businesses -- or both.

Tuesday's hearing and board action provided a glimpse into what is perhaps the nation's most ambitious school-construction program -- 160 campuses over 10 years.

Unlike a proposal to raze much of the historic Ambassador Hotel for a cluster of schools, the site deliberations Tuesday drew much less public attention.

Still, a small but impassioned group of speakers pleaded their causes on each of the proposed school locations. Opponents of a Hollywood proposal presented a video showing restored bungalows, a couple of adult businesses and autos idling on the nearby Hollywood Freeway. Critics of a site in Filipino Town cited traffic and neighborhood disruption, while others said a school would improve the area.

The sites had been analyzed by district staff members, who recommended them as the best of several possibilities, all of them less than ideal in pricey, space-starved Los Angeles.

When a board member asked project manager Tom Calhoun if another site could be found for the Hollywood school, Calhoun shook his head and said, "We've scoured the neighborhood."

All the "preferred" sites must undergo studies of traffic, noise, air pollution, cost and other issues before their selection can become final. The district may use its condemnation powers to take property from owners unwilling to sell, but it must pay them a fair price.

In addition to the South Los Angeles site, the other locations chosen Tuesday were:

* More than three acres at Sunset Boulevard and Alvarado Street in Filipino Town for an elementary school. The district would need to acquire six homes, 34 apartments and two businesses.

* A nearly five-acre site at Western and LaMirada avenues in Hollywood for a middle school. Vacant properties share the site with two houses, 63 apartments and one business.

* A one-acre plot on Borden Avenue, near Maclay Middle School, in Pacoima. A primary school is being built next door, and the district would expand that school to include kindergarten through fifth grade.

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