The 1930s campus will get new classrooms and athletic facilities but retain its historic front

By Beige Luciano-Adams

One of three potential campus layouts would create a new central quad

LAUSD has given locals a first look at what the coming $111.5-million modernization of Venice High School might look like, releasing three preliminary sketches of potential campus layouts during a Nov. 29 community meeting in the school’s cafeteria.

Each of the competing plans aims to preserve the school’s historic frontage along Venice Boulevard — that’s Rydell High to “Grease” fans — while reworking academic, athletic and parking components into a more polished composition.

More than 41,000 square feet of new classroom construction will create seven general classrooms, seven special education classrooms, two art classrooms, new chemistry labs, a horticultural classroom and an attendance office that doubles as a parent center. New vocational workshop classrooms include 16,000 square feet of space for auto shop, a graphic design and photo lab print shop, and two flexible engineering labs or maker spaces. A new gymnasium, rubberized track and upgrades to campus athletic fields round out the overhaul.

The bond-funded project follows a comprehensive survey in which the LAUSD board deemed Venice among 11 schools most in need of rehabilitation among a pool of 584 campuses districtwide.

“Venice, based on its condition, its physical state, was one of the campuses the board felt — and we felt in Facilities — needed our attention immediately for a major modernization project,” explained Scott Singletary, a facilities development manager with the district.

With a limited purse for so many campuses, Singletary said, “the primary idea is we’re focusing on safety and doing critical work. Critical repair work, critical modernization work.” This includes buildings studied under AB 300, the 1999 law requiring the state to survey K-12 buildings for earthquake safety.

Venice High will remain open and active with no shutdowns expected during a construction period of two to four years, which will begin following project approvals by the state. District officials expect to complete work in 2021.

Most of the campus is included in the project’s scope, with many existing portable classrooms marked for removal while historic buildings are to be refurbished.

Blair Ripplinger, a principal with gkkworks design firm, described working closely with the district to develop a comprehensive modernization program.

“The program defines all of the possible elements, all the outdoor athletic elements, addresses what’s being demolished, what we have to replace, as well as what the vision is from the campus for the curriculum moving forward,” Ripplinger said, referring to the specialized classroom and shop spaces slated for construction.

The high school’s historic value and “very distinct style,” Ripplinger added, will also play a role in the new design.

“The front entry is a historic piece of Venice High School,” explained Singletary. “It’s the scene from ‘Grease’ … it’s this beautiful presence to the community. We actually had a historian study the campus and come up with all the character-defining features of Venice that led to its historic significance.”

Singletary reported that the school’s historic buildings function well, don’t need to be fundamentally altered and “will last a very long time.” Improvements will include paint, floors and bathroom renovations.

The 1935 school’s distinctive PWA Moderne style (an aesthetic proliferated by the Depression-era Public Works Administration), Ripplinger said, is evident in symmetrical formal design, including exterior curvilinear elements that can be utilized in composing outdoor learning areas.

Two of the three preliminary design plans include a significant outdoor scenic quad area, while the third —“a departure,” according to the architect — is the most compact iteration in terms of the three major buildings’ relation to one another, offering the “least outdoor quad potential.”

Input from parents and teachers at the meeting spanned questions of density, solar capacity, asbestos, parking and traffic modifications — and the high school’s pool, a popular issue among parents that is, however, not part of the modernization program.

Craig Jaffey, a Venice High alumnus and the father of two current students as well as a third-grader he hopes will attend one day, said he is encouraged that Venice was included in the list of schools most in need but disappointed that public commentary was not more directly engaged.

“This is a community with a lot of history, and I would venture to guess there are large percentages of people in this room today who have ties to Venice High School. So there are strong feelings in wanting to keep the history but certainly improving,” Jaffey said. “I’m hopeful it will all work out well in the end, but it still feels like there’s a lack of information. I really don’t understand why they’re showing three concepts to a packed room of people, and why they’re not taking a poll to see what the community feels would be the best direction to kind of focus their work on.”

The district’s team of architects and engineers as well as local, state and federal officials will ultimately decide which concept best fits the district’s vision.

Only after the scope of the project, functionality and layout are determined will architects and planners dig further into the details, including aesthetics, Singletary said.

“We are really here to try to pull out of everyone who is interested in our project their thoughts and opinions about the work we’ve done and where we are today,” he said.