There are many programs and projects in the state of California
and elsewhere that exemplify some of the goals outlined for smarter
schools and smarter growth strategies. A recent "New Schools
¥ Better Neighborhoods," symposium in Los Angeles produced
some interesting examples. Attending the symposium were a group
of about 150 local and statewide leaders. The subjects for discussion
were broad in scope, from vision and goals to policy and regulation.
Presentations and panels focused on exploring obstacles and opportunities
for an expanded vision of schools that could better serve students,
educators, neighborhoods and communities. Included were some local
case studies that address these issues in ways that were both
informative and insightful.
Cahuenga Elementary School - Los Angeles,
The Director of Real Estate and Asset Management for the Los
Angeles Unified School District, whose responsibilities include
managing the process for school site selection, presented the
first case study. In his presentation, the director reviewed the
recently selected site for a proposed new Cahuenga Elementary
School, which falls within one of the most overcrowded attendance
areas in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Over 1600 students
living within Cahuenga's attendance area are bused to other locations
every day. The director of real estate had worked in earnest to
meet the goals for the site selection process. The process had
proceeded by the book, following a "Site Acquisition Flow
Chart" developed by the school district's real estate branch.
The chart stipulates 124 functions, notifications, meetings and
actions required for the approval and acquisition process. Included
are three meetings with the neighborhood.
A community meeting was held on November 9, 1998 to explain the
need for the new 1600 student school and to invite community suggestions
for possible locations. Six people attended. A professional real
estate consulting firm was employed to drive each block in the
study area and identify three potential locations. In February
1999, staff reviewed the recommendations. No community suggestions
were received. The staff recommended, by consensus, a 4.75-acre
site that currently houses 21 single-family homes and an 8-unit
apartment building. The site was approved by the Los Angeles Board
of Education in March 1999. Six and a half million dollars were
set aside for site acquisition.
Meanwhile, the Beverly-Kingsley Neighborhood Association had
been meeting to discuss the new school project. The site selected
by the school district included 19 of the community's most prized
Craftsman bungalows that had long been nurtured by the neighborhood.
At the symposium, the neighborhood association presented an alternative
community-designed plan that would redistribute the 1600 students
into three smaller schools. The proposed sites would eliminate
some of the community's most blighted properties and put the schools
closer to the heaviest concentrations of students.
Camino Nuevo Charter Academy - Los Angeles,
The Cahuenga case study became even more interesting after a
second neighborhood case study was presented. The director of
a neighborhood nonprofit organization called Pueblo Nuevo Development
led this case study. In collaboration with other community leaders
and organizations, Pueblo Nuevo is proposing to create the Camino
Nuevo Charter Academy, a 240 student charter school. As proposed,
the Academy would occupy an existing 1/3-acre shopping center
site in the MacArthur Park neighborhood. Recreational activities
will be accommodated through a joint-use arrangement with MacArthur
Park, which is three blocks away. The total capital costs for
the project are estimated at $650,000 for site acquisition and
another $350,000 for construction, or an average of about $4,200
As the panel of Pueblo Nuevo representatives continued their
presentation, comparisons with the Cahuenga Elementary School,
where the cost per student would probably exceed $4,000 just for
land acquisition, became obvious. Including the cost of construction,
the total cost per student for Cahuenga could exceed $22,000Ð
more than five times as much as the Camino Nuevo Academy project.
Even though the quality of space at a renovated shopping center
may not compare as favorably with that of a brand new facility
at Cahuenga, the lower cost and lack of complexity of the smaller
project, and the opportunity to house large quantities of students
in smaller, more intimate educational settings provided a compelling
comparison. Given the large quantity of small faltering shopping
center sites available throughout the Los Angeles region, the
lack of disruption to existing residents and improvements to the
urban fabric of the adjoining commercial streets presented other
clear advantages for planning at a smaller scale.
TreePeople - Los Angeles, California
One of the most compelling case studies presented at the symposium
came from another not-for-profit environmental group known as
TreePeople. Rather than addressing issues related to a single
school, this case study addressed environmental issues that apply
to all Los Angeles school sites. The TreePeople organization has
been developing an integrated environmental planning model for
school sites that amalgamates beneficial qualities from multiple
resources. One focus of their work has been on asphalt paving,
which is an enormous source of heat at schools and also a contributor
to flooding and pollution. A large proportion of a recent facilities
bond was allocated for repaving asphalt at LAUSD schools, one
of the largest amounts of pavement under one ownership within
the Los Angeles watershed. With the help of scientists at the
U.S. Department of Energy and Lawrence Livermore Labs, TreePeople
determined that by planting trees to help shade and cool the buildings,
a net savings of 12-18 percent in energy could be achieved, and
that these cost savings alone would be more than enough to pay
for installing and maintaining the additional natural landscape.
As a result, the School Board has agreed to replace more than
30 percent of the asphalt on each campus with trees and greening.
The TreePeople team is currently exploring how more natural landscape
can also curtail runoff, reducing the construction of expensive
storm water drainage structures and pollution abatement, resulting
in reduced capital and maintenance costs for other state and municipal
In many ways, all of the Los Angeles case studies share a similar
kind of David vs. Goliath subtheme. In the face of limited resources
and policy hurdles, battles by neighborhood associations and environmental
groups have ensued against the behemoth Los Angeles Unified School
District and its policies. But one of the most endearing qualities
of the case study presentations was the spirit of camaraderie
that prevailed through the many alternating moments of frustration
and revelation. No one stood up to blame the LAUSD's Director
of Real Estate for what seemed to some like an impending boondoggle
at Cahuenga. The director, with clearly honorable intentions,
came off more as a victim than a perpetrator. Sympathy also prevailed
for the plight of Pueblo Nuevo in their quest for approvals and
charter school status. The director of TreePeople rose to heroic
status as his programs and their convincing financial justifications
have begun to chip away at the fiduciary Achilles heel of the
embedded Los Angeles school bureaucracy.
The New Schools / Better Neighborhoods symposium case studies
present compelling examples of how a more systemic and community-based
approach to the design of educational facilities can maximize
the social, environmental and financial return on public investment.
But in addition to addressing community needs and concerns, new
environments for learning must also accommodate new strategies
for educational delivery where curriculum is more interactive,
hands-on and project based. In the words of one student: "Tell
us why we need to know it - make it real or just forget it."
One example of this kind of educational innovation is being developed
in San Francisco's Exploratorium museum. The following is a description
of that program followed by some other community-based educational
facilities case studies from across the state of California:
Exploratorium - San Francisco, California
The Exploratorium is a museum of science, art and human perception
located in the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina district of San
Francisco. In addition to thousands of hands-on exhibits available
to the general public, the museum also operates a wide range of
educational outreach projects.
The Science Explorer is an outreach program that allows students
of all ages to explore and create projects in their own home.
A detailed publication provides opportunities to use everything
from the refrigerator to the kitchen sink to learn the principles
of math and science and a wide range of other educational content.
Another program called the Learning Studio is an experimental
multimedia and communications lab. The Learning Studio works primarily
with teachers, Exploratorium staff and artists, providing opportunities
to share considerable knowledge and expertise through the development
of creative interactive multimedia and telecommunications. Projects
have included the world's first Internet video conference, a plane
in the stratosphere and a special interactive event for the international
celebration of Pi Day.
The extension of the Exploratorium's resources through the Science
Explorer and Learning Studio programs illustrate an opportunity
for other organizations to serve as extended learning centers
through the application of current developments in project-based
learning and multimedia and telecommunications technology.
Hayward Unified Master Plan - Hayward,
A recently completed educational facilities master plan for the
Hayward Unified School District presents a different opportunity
for thematic learning. Hayward, California is a community of about
112,000 people (1990 census) on the east side of the San Francisco
Bay. There are more than 88 different ethnic groups represented
in the community. The school system teaches to more than 43 languages.
The Hayward community has decided to celebrate its rich cultural
diversity through the development of future educational facilities.
The decision was made through an eighteen month community-based
planning process that included more than 100 parents, students,
educators and other stakeholders. As a result, a new site needed
to accommodate approximately 400 students will be developed as
a fine arts multi-cultural museum, academy and cultural center.
In addition to its formal education function, current plans call
for the new facility to serve as a tourism attraction for the
entire Bay Area and as a national center for research in multi-culturalism.
An innovative new integrated curriculum will be the focus of the
academy's academic program, with extensions to serve all of the
community's existing Pre-K-12 and Higher Ed learning sites.
Western Placer Unified Master Plan - Placer
The Western Placer Unified School District has developed a similar
master plan. Known as "Project Build," the plan supports
and enhances the district's instructional strategies within the
context of the whole learning community. During two school terms,
over 100 community members, faculty and staff, administrators,
parents and students formed a committee to explore and investigate
community resources that impact facilities development. In addition,
the school district has incorporated the planning process into
the curriculum, teaching students to design, draw and make models
in preparation for better communication with architects who will
be designing the area's new schools.
One local real estate developer learned through the "Project
Build" planning meetings that the natural environment could
be used as a powerful learning tool. The developer then donated
170 acres of prime real estate, including a Native American archaeological
site, to the district. The same developer also donated 2,000 mandarin
orange trees that will be planted on the site. At the end of seven
years, the mandarin grove is projected to provide revenues of
over $400,000 per year for the district. The agricultural project
will be managed through an innovative environmental studies curriculum
from which students will receive academic and ecological training
in non-traditional surroundings. A primary component of the master
plan calls for even more extensive use of existing community resources
The Western Placer Education Foundation, which was formed as
an outgrowth of the planning process, has acquired over $3 million
in grants and resources to support the development of an integrated
environmental/arts curriculum. The district now owns or has access
to more than 5,000 acres of natural land for educational use.
As a result of the "Project Build" planning process,
the district is also moving to implement a shared 10-14 grade
level Lincoln High -Sierra Community College Learning Center.
The center will address the growing need for a seamless educational
program to educate and train high school and community college
students for careers in the region's burgeoning high-tech industry.
Cesar Chavez Elementary School - San Diego,
The Cesar Chavez Elementary School was developed through a community-based
planning process involving a cross-section of the community's
predominantly Hispanic population. The new facility serves its
larger community through a number of extended uses. The health
center doubles as a community clinic; a parent center serves as
a community meeting room; a library media facility is open in
the evening and on weekends for community instruction and tutorials;
the cafeteria serves as a community meeting hall; and playgrounds
double as a Class III soccer field.
The architectural design includes many educational innovations
to serve contemporary teaching practices, but goes even further
to celebrate the community's predominantly Mexican-American heritage.
A 350 foot long mural of a cosmic Indian is incorporated in the
paving of the complex's large academic yard. On one facade of
the Library/Administration building is a reference to the logo
of the United Farm Workers, and on another is a colorful Quetzal
Indian headdress. A two story, multi-striped serpent includes
references to the Anasazi farmer and the Aztec astronomer. An
Incan tapestry is designed into the classroom wing and storytelling
facades of family, cooking, gardening and the jaguar world are
incorporated into the walls of the cafetorium. Through its architectural
design, the school serves as an interpretive center for students,
a cultural resource for the community and a 21st century landmark.