John Burroughs Middle School Modernization Plan Revealed

Residents gather at community meeting to discuss preliminary designs for the modernization of John Burroughs Middle School
Residents gather at community meeting to discuss preliminary design concepts for the modernization of John Burroughs Middle School

Los Angeles Unified School District officials unveiled three preliminary design concepts under consideration for the massive modernization planned for Hancock Park’s historic John Burroughs Middle School at a community meeting held at the school last week. The meeting was organized by LAUSD to inform residents and get community input on the initial concepts, which call for removing  all the portable buildings, extensive renovation to the older buildings to make them accessible and improve earthquake safety, construction of several new buildings for new classrooms and food services, as well as major improvements to the site…including creating a landscaped quad in the center of the campus.

Built in the 1920s to accommodate 400 students, the historic campus of John Burroughs has been altered over the years and now serves about 1800 students. Burroughs Principal Dr. Steve Martinez, who is particularly proud of his school’s rich heritage, as well as the recent recognition of Gold Ribbon status for high performing schools in the state, welcomed the community’s participation in the planning of the $107 million renovation.

LAUSD facilities official Scott Singletary, who oversees work at 540 LAUSD campuses, explained that Burroughs was identified by the district as one of the top 11 schools of greatest need, based on an assessment of the physical conditions of the campus, the age of equipment and facilities, earthquake safety, proportion of classrooms in portable buildings and the adequacy of public access to the campus. Since his presentation last January, Singletary said the district approved a recommended budget of $107 million in February 2016, and the master plan for the campus modernization is currently in the environment and schematic design phase.

Architects Steven Ehrlich and Whitney Wyatt, from Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, introduced their design team, which includes Peyton Hall, Managing Principal at Historic Resources Group (founded by noted preservationist Christy McAvoy and Scott Baker, landscape architect and president of Relm Studios). The team members expressed their commitment to celebrate the rich history of the 1923-1935 architecture in the historic buildings, including the main building and the auditorium and classroom building that face McCadden Place and 6th Street, which are part of the Hancock Park HPOZ. All the historic  buildings, except for the Shop building, will be renovated. Design features of the new buildings will draw inspiration from the historic architecture, though they are not expected to match the historic buildings, according to Ehrlich.

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After all three design concepts were presented, each offering various placements of proposed buildings on the site,  the architects began fielding questions from the community. There seemed to be general agreement that Design Concept 3, the favorite of the planning team, was most appealing to others as well. Design Concept 3 features the proposed new classroom building alongside the historic auditorium, but turned 90 degrees from the version presented in Design Concept 2, which reduces the view of a long building along McCadden and preserves the current view of trees and open space many residents on McCadden now enjoy. (All three designs can be seen here.)

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McCadden Street resident shows a photo she'd taken that day of a school bus traveling in the wrong direction
A McCadden Place resident shows a photo she took that day of a school bus traveling in the wrong direction

Most of the comments and questions from the community were focused on traffic. Several residents who live on McCadden, directly across the street from the school, reported being prohibited from getting to their homes by LA Department of Transportation staff, despite having passes issued by the school. One McCadden resident shared a photo she took of a school bus driving down the street in the wrong direction as an example of the danger presented to residents and students of the current traffic congestion. Another resident asked if the school could require carpools, like another school which restricts all cars on campus, except four-person carpools. (Unfortunately, LAUSD officials said requiring carpools could create a liability for the district.)

Dr. Martinez agreed that traffic is the issue of greatest concern to most residents and expressed his own frustration in working with various City departments. Martinez offered his cell phone number to any residents who didn’t already have it.  Newly appointed CD4 Field Deputy Catherine Landers also introduced herself and offered to organize a meeting with DOT and the neighbors to explore new ways to reduce congestion in the short term.

LAUSD officials said a detailed traffic study would be undertaken as part of the Environmental Impact Report required for the project under the state’s CEQA law. That process is expected to start in the early fall.

In addition, residents asked questions about the construction schedule. According to Singletary, estimated that construction would take between 2-4 years and would likely be done in phases year around, not just on school breaks, so construction could be completed by the end of 2022.

Hancock Park resident and architect Jim Wolf, who also attended Burroughs for middle school, urged the design team to consider materials for the new construction that looks more like the historic buildings, noting with dismay that many recently-built schools look like prisons or factories. Architect Whitney Wyatt said her children attend a LAUSD school, and she has experience adding elements of fun to school campus architecture. She noted one example in which recycled telephone poles were used to create colorful outdoor gathering spaces for the University of California Irvine Arts Center.

Another graduate, class of 67, whose father was in the class of 1927, asked if there was any way to keep the Shop building in the new plan. The answer was no, and that – unfortunately – some buildings are simply too expensive to preserve. A parent of Third Street School students said she was excited about the project and very pleased that her children would be able to attend the modernized campus.

LAUSD Community Outreach Coordinator Teresa Akins concluded the meeting around 8:30 p.m. and invited residents to sign in to receive updates as the planning process continues. All the designs can be seen in the Powerpoint presentation Elvia Perez Cano of  LAUSD Facilities shared with the Buzz. For more information on the project, contact Teresa Akins, LAUSD Community Outreach Coordinator for the project, at teresa.akins@lausd.net or (213) 241-1326.

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About Patricia Lombard

Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, “Larchmont” for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier’s Books.

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