Friday, April 20, 2007

The Mega-High School Appears to Be A Thing of the Past for San Pedro

By Diana L. Chapman

Rather than continuing on with a controversial plan to build mega-high school on Western Avenue, Los Angeles school officials revealed Thursday night another option for the San Pedro community: two scaled back campuses – one anchored on the north side of the port town and the other on the south.
If approved, San Pedro could have two more additional high schools: an 800 student campus at the former Naval housing property on Western Avenue and a second 1,200 student campus on school property at the Angels Gate-Fort MacArthur site.
The proposal erases the original – to build a 2,025 student high school campus at the former Naval housing property on Western – a concept that brought mounting waves of criticism in regards to traffic gridlock from the community and acrimonious battles with property developer Robert Bisno who intends to build 2,300 homes there.
School officials announced last night that Bisno lost another round in the courts by refusing them access to the property to explore educational options and that they will now be allowed on the site.
To sooth over community wounds and meet the needs of students, currently at the oversaturated San Pedro and Narbonne high schools, officials unveiled proposed plans to construct two smaller campuses to a small audience that attended Thursday’s meeting at San Pedro High School.
If approved, predicted completion dates would be 2012.
“We developed a modified plan over several months which meets our high school seat need, is instructionally sound for our students, is fiscally responsive to the voters who funded the construction bonds and which helps address some of the traffic and recreational facilities concerns of our San Pedro community,” e-mailed school Board Member Mike Lansing, who steps down from his post this June. “This is a “win-win” plan and I am proud to bring it forward to the community for their input/support.”
Now impacting his neighborhood, Coastal Neighborhood Council President Doug Epperhart said he didn’t have much to discuss at this moment, but added: “The proposal opens up many possibilities.”
While not everyone at the meeting was happy, most speakers commended the school district for listening to their views that the original high school plan was too massive for the community.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for thinking about compromise,” said speaker John Wells. “You are working on compromise, but I think we can still find something better then this.”
Neal Kleiner, who is running for Lansing’s seat, commended Lansing for his efforts to reduce campus sizes, but added he’d “like to take it a couple of steps further” by making both those sites ninth grade academies instead that would then feed into San Pedro High School.
“That’s been working at Paramount and it’s been working in Lynwood,” he told school officials. “It takes care of that lack of connectiveness.”
Initially the district had proposed using about 15 acres from the proposed Ponte Vista site for a high school – where a gated town home community has been proposed -- to ease intense overcrowding at both Narbonne and San Pedro High Schools.
Both the high school and the Ponte Vista project launched an intense and hot campaign against either proposal at the 62.5 acres parcel of land perched across from Green Hills Memorial Park for the same reasons: traffic gridlock, an intense fear of overbuilding and fears of few ways to evacuate in the event of emergencies. The land, currently zoned for single family homes, would have to be rezoned for the Ponte Vista development.
Under the school’s new proposal, a much smaller school would be built on about six acres in the north west piece of former Navy land – a campus of about 810 seats and would be a “choice” school for those attending Narbonne.
The second site of 1,200 seats would surround students with many other educational possibilities that currently exist there, the Fort MacArthur Military Museum, the Marine Mammal Care Center, the International Bird Rescue and Research Center and the Angel’s Gate Cultural Center.
School official Larry Tash explained the school district has been steadily working toward the creation of “smaller learning communities,” as much research has shown the importance of students being connected to their schools so they will go on and graduate.
“Research tell us it’s extremely important for secondary schools,” he explained. “And we’ve all made the decision that all secondary schools will have smaller learning environments.”