What’s more important: School buildings or the teachers who fill them?


Connie Rice, member of the district’s School Bond Oversight Committee, noted the megaschools are only three of 131 that the district is building to alleviate overcrowding. RFK “is an amazing facility,” she said. “Is it a lot of money? Yes. We didn’t like it, but they got it done.”

Construction costs at LA Unified are the second-highest in the nation — something the district blames on skyrocketing material and land prices, rigorous seismic codes and unionized labor.

James Sohn, the district’s chief facilities executive, said the megaschools were built when global raw material shortages caused costs to skyrocket to an average of $600 per square foot in 2006 and 2007 — triple the price from 2002. Costs have since eased to $350 per square foot.

On top of that, each project had its own cost drivers.

After buildings were demolished at the site of the 2,400-student Roybal
school, contaminated soil, a methane gas field and an earthquake fault were discovered. A gas mitigation system cost $17 million.

Over 20 years, the project grew to encompass a dance studio with cushioned maple floors, a modern kitchen with a restaurant-quality pizza oven, a 10-acre park and teacher planning rooms between classrooms.

The 1,700-student arts school was designed as a landmark, with a stainless steel, postmodernistic tower encircled by a rollercoaster-like swirl, while the RFK site involved 15 years of litigation with historic preservationists and Donald Trump, who wanted to build the world’s tallest building there. The wrangling cost $9 million.

Methane mitigation cost $33 million and the district paid another $15 million preserving historic features, including a wall of the famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub and turning the Paul Williams-designed coffee shop into a faculty lounge.

Sohn said LA Unified has reached the end of its Taj Mahal building spree. “These are definitely the exceptions,” he said. “We don’t anticipate schools costing hundreds of millions of dollars in the future.”

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