A charter organization that has made a name for itself by improving the academic environment in some urban schools in Los Angeles is now looking for a place to call its own on the Westside.
Green Dot Public Schools has declared its intentions to relocate from the campus of Cowan Elementary School in Westchester to a Del Rey location that formerly housed Mercury Air Group.
The two-story, 21,000 square foot edifice at 5456 McConnell Ave. would be home to Green Dot’s Westside Animo Middle School.
The charter operator plans to house 500 students on McConnell, including those who are at the Cowan campus. They plan to have 21 teachers and seven staff members at the site, according to documents circulated by Green Dot.
According to David Moss, Green Dot’s building and planning consultant, the building will undergo certain changes to accommodate a school if it is approved.
Some of those changes include “significant” upgrades to the building façade, landscaping, perimeter security and interior circulation.
The charter organization has also applied for a conditional use permit.
Green Dot has been seeking neighborhood support, according to Moss. “We have done extensive outreach in the area,” he said, although he declined to state how many residents and businesses had been contacted.
Playa Vista’s first phase of development, which has approximately 6,000 residents, is within three blocks of the former Mercury Air site and the light industrial park where the building is located has several businesses nearby.
The Del Rey Neighborhood Council voted to send the matter back to its land use and planning committee on Dec.13 for further discussion on the charter’s dropoff and pickup for students.
LAUSD Board Member Steven Zimmer, who represents Del Rey in District 4, thinks any method of lessening the burden of colocation at traditional schools has merit.
“I’m always generally supportive of solutions that can relieve the tensions that have been created through colocation,” Zimmer said. ‘It’s actually a pretty good location.”
A colocation is a situation where charter school students share space and facilities on a traditional school campus. The passage of Proposition 39 provides charter operators with the opportunity to have space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant.
School districts tender offers to charters at schools where these classrooms exist and charters then decide whether to accept or deny them.
City officials will be responsible for reviewing the school’s traffic plans, planning documents and building permits.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl said he has known people affiliated with Green Dot for many years and does not anticipate much opposition to them coming to Del Rey, a community that he represents.
“It’s in an industrial area and (Green Dot) is trying to have their own space for their kids. I will definitely be speaking in favor of it, as long as there are no critical planning issues,” said the councilman.
Zimmer also qualified any support he might offer the charter organization. “The only concern that I would have would be related to safety or major neighborhood concerns,” he said.
The charter organization has been seeking a Westside location for several years.
“We have had a lot of requests from parents to bring a middle school to their area, and there are an incredible group of parents in Venice and Mar Vista who are very involved in their children’s education,” Venice resident and Green Dot Executive Director Marco Petruzzi said an interview last year.
Troy Takaki is one such parent. The Venice resident has one daughter who colocates at Cowan at the Animo Middle School and thinks it has been a successful during the two years that it has been in place.
“I think it’s a good idea for every school to have their own building,” said Takaki, whose fifth grade daughter attends Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista.
Parents from Mar Vista and Venice have signed various petitions several years ago to bring a middle school to their area. Many of them were from Walgrove and Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice. Ironically, many of those same parents objected to Green Dot when it sought to have its middle school on Westminster Avenue’s campus in 2010.
The objections of having Green Dot on their campus took some of the charter school’s executives by surprise given the number of petitions that were signed. Due largely to complaints from the school principal, faculty and parents, Green Dot decided to seek another campus where they could colocate and the district gave them classrooms at Cowan.
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe, who works for a charter organization, thinks the move could be beneficial for children in public education in general in the post-Prop. 39 era.
“I believe charter and traditional school students deserve great buildings and places to learn. When we as a community have an opportunity to provide those spaces we should do all we can to make that happen,” said DeSobe, a former elementary school teacher in Compton. “In return schools should do all they can to be good neighbors.”
The council’s commission is expected to hear another presentation in January.
Green Dot has a high school, Animo Venice, on the campus of Broadway Elementary School in Venice. The high school has its own building separate from the elementary school.
The LAUSD Board of Education will have the final approval on the petition.