In order to get the most bang for the buck, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Facilities Services Division is partnering with community organizations like the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club of America to complete the schools that are part of its $12.6 billion budget.

At the same time, the district has created training programs that will increase the capacity of small contractors and train new workers in the construction sectors.

Paul Escala, program director of the Joint Use Development Program of the LAUSD, said that the new school building program has a secondary goal of bringing more resources to communities, and this is being done in part by recruiting non-profit organizations to help build and operate youth centers, health clinics and to cultivate athletic programs on these campuses for students.

Markham Middle School in Watts is a good example of how these partnerships work. The school is undergoing a $4 million renovation to help facilitate much needed athletic and after school programs. “We are bringing AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) to Watts,” says Escala.
“AYSO and Cal South are coming to neighborhoods where they have never been,” explained Escala, who said the hope is that introducing these extracurricular activities will motivate students to stay in school and will help them improve academically.

In cooperation with AYSO, the school has built an athletic field, and the organization will operate a soccer program during the school year, and a summer day camp.

The other partnership at Markham involves the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office and the Watts/Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club. The City Attorney is providing funding to place two modular buildings on the campus, which will be the setting for an afterschool, evening and weekend program operated by the Boys and Girls Club.

In addition to adding resources to the community, the LAUSD is working to strengthen the economy of neighborhoods by recruiting local contractors to build the schools, while helping individuals start careers as workers.

The Small Business and Local Workers programs offer training for contractors to nurture and grow their businesses. This includes teaching the entrepreneurs how to bid on projects and structure their business in a way that business processes are strengthened. The District also recently put into place a bonding program to help alleviate one of the most persistent problems for small contractors.

Perspective workers who enroll in the We Build Program receive training and education in construction, that ranges from designing their own school to knowing how to handle plumbing, heating and other such skills.

The We Build Program is a 10-week pre-apprenticeship course that prepares workers for a career in construction with the district, and graduates can eventually earn at least $27.82 an hour.

The District also created a program that will provide a $50 voucher for workers to purchase the equipment needed to be on a union job site or help pay union dues.

The program also helps participants with issues such as driver’s licenses suspension and criminal expunging records.

Veronica Soto, director of the Small Business Program said, “This project has a lifespan of (until) 2012, however all of our sister agencies have multibillion dollar programs in place too.”

This means that once they’ve received training from the LAUSD and perhaps even worked on a school construction site, they have the skills and capabilities of moving to other jobs within the region. Soto emphasizes that the workers are usually residents of local neighborhoods, consequently the money they earn in these jobs feeds back into their own communities.

The LAUSD Facilities Division Community Outreach branch makes sure that neighborhood groups and families have an opportunity to work with the district in the building process, from selecting a site to designing the schools to choosing the programs. Parents have the opportunity to voice what they feel the needs of their children are and hold district leaders accountable for meeting those.

Ultimately, the goal of the building program–which is slated to be completed by 2012 and will feature a total of 132 new schools district wide–is to take all schools off of the multi-track semester system and institute a standard two-semester year. At the same time, officials want to make these new campuses a more integral part of the community by co-locating things such as clinics and afterschool programs at the school.

While building new schools to relieve overcrowding is a critical priority for the school district, maintaining the existing school sites is also something that must happen as well, despite the prospect of massive budget cuts.

Recently, the LAUSD has been under scrutiny for the contaminated water in drinking fountains at various schools. An NBC investigation revealed that many campus buildings over 20-years-old, have not been properly maintained, have rotting pipes and other unattended structural issues.

The investigation revealed that some schools have more than five times the allowable lead content. The Los Angeles County lead program allows up to 15 parts of lead per billion feet of water, but a number of schools when initially tested had significantly higher levels.

According to LAUSD officials, they have begun an evaluation process that will make sure that the drinking fountains at all schools will eventually be checked. The campuses that have had problems in the past (including Alta Loma Elementary, Marvin Avenue and Mann Middle School), have been among the first checked.

In addition to the routine checks, the district has instituted a policy that requires school plant managers to make sure that each morning before the day begins, all fountains should be flushed.
This means running the water for at least 30 seconds. Though the policy has been in effect since 1988, the district is now holding schools accountable to fulfill the requirements.

The district has a $7.6 billion budget that is currently being used to upgrade current institutions, but with budget cuts there is limited funding for future needs; officials estimate that they need an additional $60 billion to bring all schools up to standard.

OW Staff Writer Cynthia E. Griffin also contributed to this story.