New schools spark back to school interest across the state

Edward R. Roybal Learning Center boasts outfitted science labs, individual shower stalls in locker rooms, a modern kitchen with a restaurant-quality pizza oven, a 480-space underground parking lot, 315 trees, a 3000-seat mega-gym, and a dance studio with a shiny new maple floor.

The Roybal Center, formerly the Belmont Learning Complex, is one of the nations most notorious school construction projects that came about only after a hellish 15-year legal and construction battle and a cost of $400 million. The downtown Los Angeles school opens Sept. 3 and is one of 157 new K-12 schools opening this fall across the state that includes 41 schools in Los Angeles Unified School District, seven in San Diego Unified, and four in San Bernardino City Unified.

The new facilities cap a boom in school construction over the last ten years fueled by voter-approved bond measures that provided more than $19 billion to districts and county education offices and benefitted 1.2 million California children.

But even as the need remains enormous, theres growing concern about how much money will be available in the near future. According to the Office of Public School Construction, new construction money will run out in 2009, but the modernization fund, which will cover carry over expenses, is expected to last through all of 2010 and perhaps into 2011.

Rob Cook, head of OPSC, said that state schools use about $150 million per month for new construction projects. Lawmakers will presumably be ready to put another bond measure on the ballot either in June or November of 2010.

That said, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, has said the need for new schools is being driven by the aging of existing facilities. He said that in the next five years, the state needs to build 16 new classrooms and modernize another 21 each day to keep pace.

Here are some other schools opening this month:

- Set to open Aug. 21, Antelope High School already has 850 enrolled students (700 were expected), filling 12 courses including art and student government. This is Roseville Joint Union High School Districts fifth comprehensive high school, offering two grades now and four grades by 2010. The price tag is about $100 million.

- Old River Elementary in Contra Costa County is the Knightsen School Districts first new school in 72 years. This academic year, the schools opened to only six classes in Kindergarten through fifth grade, but in the works are plans for additional classrooms, a full-size gym, and a library-technology center.

- A double-decker elementary school Del Sur elementary is an architectural anomaly in Southern California and the designers could not be happier. Opening this week, the $29 million dollar project features murals and a central rotunda the school calls its educational mall. With classrooms displaying computer labs and built-in flowerpots on the counters near the windows, the Poway Unified School District unveils a trophy K-5 with Del Sur.

Allen Young is a freelance writer living in Petaluma