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Progress made in LA school buildings, but they need $60 billion more

Mike Szymanski | March 1, 2016

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Mark Hovatter Chief Facilities Executive

Mark Hovatter, chief facilities executive

School overcrowding is down and buildings are safer and updated. But according to a recent report, there’s still $60 billion worth of work needed on LA Unified schools.

Since 1997 an unprecedented series of bonds approved specifically for school buildings to ease overcrowding has provided the district with $19.5 billion. While the district has completed 20,000 modernization projects, built 130 new schools and added onto 65 campuses, it still needs an additional $60 billion to renovate and modernize its existing campuses, Chief Facilities Executive Mark Hovatter said in a report last week to the school board’s Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee.

“We had an unprecedented influx of funds for facilities,” Hovatter told the committee, pointing to propositions ranging from Prop BB in 1997 for $2.4 billion to Measure Q in 2008 for $7 billion, all of which must be used for school facilities and cannot be used for salaries or books. “We’ve made a lot of progress. But there’s still a lot of work to do.”

That progress includes nearly eliminating multi-track school schedules districtwide (the last school will end the multi-track schedule this year) and adding full-day kindergarten classes to every elementary school. Seven schools have had major seismic renovations, and 48 schools have had urgent repairs that include new roofing, fixing air conditioners, asbestos removal and other major structural repairs. Schools that were built for 1,800 students no longer house 3,500 students.

“We still have a lot of major issues. Even with our new schools, the average age of our schools is 50 years old,” Hovatter said. “We have 700 buildings that are more than 75 years old.”

school-constructionBoard member Monica Ratliff, chairwoman of the budget and facilities committee, said she was concerned that the money wasn’t spent evenly among districts. Hovatter said, “The prime directive is the safety of the school, and we didn’t look at district lines.”

Ratliff, who was looking at the big picture of solving a $600 million budget deficit expected in three years, said, “In terms of fairness I want to see how the money is distributed across our district. I always want to make sure it’s fair.”

Of the $7.8 billion of proposition money left, about $1.45 billion is set aside for charter school facilities, including $402 million for building new charter schools.

“The charters have to be built to our standards and will become our facilities, so they have to comply to our labor standards and certain qualifications,” Hovatter said.

The board had to cancel $600 million in bond construction projects in October to free up the funds needed to make existing buildings compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The district has been out of compliance with the act and is under a federal court order to upgrade its facilities.

Although the school board must still individually approve each project, the district for the first time has set up an overall plan for the 1,274 schools it runs in the district, according to Hovatter. The plan is a wish list, written as if money were no object for each school site. That list comes with a $60 billion price tag, he said.

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