Children who live in Playa Vista may soon have a school to call their own.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education approved an elementary school for the affluent community of 6,500 on February 10th.
The 650-student campus will be located below Loyola Marymount University, which will be a big benefit in establishing educational partnerships, said LAUSD school board member Marlene Canter, who represents Westchester and Playa Vista.
The board approved the school by a 4-1 margin, with two members abstaining.
Canter, who is not running for reelection March 3rd, has been a proponent of building a school at Playa Vista from the outset of the community’s inception.
“I’m very excited about having a school in Playa Vista,” she said.
A report from Thomas Watson of LAUSD’s Environmental Health and Safety Division convinced Canter that it was safe to build the school in a community that sits on top of a pocket of methane gas.
“We now have the capabilities to mitigate any issues at the site,” said Canter.
Environmental groups that have challenged Playa Vista in court are opposed to building the school on the grounds of the planned community.
Kathy Knight, a Santa Monica environmentalist who has been involved in lawsuits against Playa Vista, feels that the decision by the LAUSD board did not take into account what she feels are stark warning signs regarding methane gas, oil remnants and other hazardous gases.
“Why put a new school in an area where there are so many dangerous issues?” she asked.
Patricia McPherson, an environmentalist who has also sued Playa Vista to stop development in Phase One, says that the land where the school is slated to be built is in a high-gas area with potentially dangerous toxins such as hydrogen sulfide, and that Playa Vista has not been forthcoming with her or its residents regarding the potential hazards at the site.
“I’m not so concerned about stopping the school,” she said. “What I want to see is the truth come out. People who move into an area need to know what they’re getting into so they can make an informed decision.”
Canter said that LAUSD has learned a lot in the years since the environmental fiasco at the former Belmont Learning Complex in Los Angeles, which generated national attention because of its alleged toxic site.
“We do not build schools where they are not safe,” she asserted.
Parents of young children in Playa Vista are delighted that their kids will have a school that is within a few blocks of their homes.
“I’m thrilled,” said Diana Duque-Miranda, whose three-year-old daughter Valoria would attend the new elementary school. “[The school] was one of the most important factors that my husband and I considered when we moved here.”
Steve Donnell, whose ten-month-old son Matthew would eventually attend the new school’s kindergarten class, said that the opening of the Playa Vista school is “a great thing to look forward to.”
“There are many babies in strollers right now that will be attending this school,” said Steven Sugerman, a spokesman for Playa Capital. “It fits right into the concept of Playa Vista, where you have facilities and amenities within walking distance, without having to use your car.”
Duque-Miranda, who is expecting another child this year, cited the advantage of having a neighborhood school within close proximity to her home.
“To be able to walk my daughter to school and have other activities nearby is really wonderful,” she said, noting the proximity of the Playa Vista Library and the freshwater marsh west of Lincoln Boulevard.
McPherson feels that many parents are unaware of the potential risks that she alleges exist at the location where the school will be built.
“I truly believe that most people don’t know the dangers inherent with that site,” she asserted.
Neither Donnell nor Duque-Miranda expressed any anxiety over the gases that Knight and McPherson say could be hazardous to children who will attend the neighborhood school.
“I think that our school will be very safe,” said Donnell, a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa del Rey. “I believe that the mitigation measures that Playa Vista has installed are absolutely safe.”
Duque-Miranda added, “We did a lot of research on methane gas and we found out that it is prevalent throughout Los Angeles. I’m not concerned at all.”
There is some concern that the new school will siphon students away from local schools that have seen a decline in student population, such as Loyola Village and Playa del Rey elementary schools.
“This is a residential boundary issue,” said Melinda Goodall, the principal of Loyola Village. “Having a school at Playa Vista has always been a part of its master plan.”
Goodall acknowledged that her school could lose some of its students to Playa Vista but hopes to make up for the losses when new families move into the Westchester/Playa del Rey area.
“I do expect that we will have more students after the new development on the corner of Manchester and Lincoln Boulevard is completed,” the principal said.
Canter said, “It would be a tragedy to not build a school and, by the nature of not building it, get back to overcrowding again.”
Kelly Kane, a Westchester parent, said that the addition of a school in Playa Vista would be a welcome addition to the local area.
“I think that it’s a place that absolutely needs a school,” Kane told The Argonaut the day after the board approved the new school. “I think that this is the most forethought that the school board has used in a long time.”
The school is slated to open next year.