Edifice Complex

Bobby Kennedy was killed in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles more than forty years ago. Two decades after that deplorable event, the L.A. school system set its sights on converting the 20+ acre site into a school complex. Not everyone agreed with the concept with preservationists and developers (including Donald Trump who lusted for the acreage) vying for ownership.

After a twenty year battle for control of the site, the victorious L.A. Unified School District began development of a site supporting three schools. And what a bargain it has proven to be for tax payers!

As the L.A. Times reports, a complex that will soon accommodate 4,200 kids cost $578,000,000.00. That's a mere $137,619.00 per student. Original development estimates were based on: "A school construction project that began with a $50-million outlay..."

Not surprisingly, government officials failed to recognize market realities:

A 2007 budget estimated building costs at $300 per square foot. An internal study then warned of an increase to $500. But bids came in at $700 and more. (Construction costs have since declined by half.) That peak cost drove up the budget from $309 million in 2007 to $570.5 million a year later.

One must wonder, when costs exploded, if the LAUSD picked up the phone to call Mr. Trump to ask if he wanted to take the site off their hands. Seven hundred dollars/sq/ft?! For schools?! Few Five Star resorts cost that much.

And after spending so much money, the L.A. Times disapproves of the architecture:

L.A. and its cultural guardians, in other words, had the decisiveness neither to save the original hotel complex as a school nor to make a clean break with the past by building an ensemble of entirely new buildings. Instead the LAUSD settled on an architectural path - confused, expensive and a little macabre all at the same time - that suggests that the city has now entered a kind of limbo when it comes to cultural maturity. It is neither young enough to energetically (if blithely) embrace the future nor self-aware enough to fully protect its architectural heritage, particularly when that protection requires significant investment from cash-strapped public agencies.

So, what is most important in the education of our children? The Times, after blasting the architecture of the boondoggle says:

But a building doesn't drive academic progress. New campuses are sprouting like weeds in parts of Los Angeles where student test scores are still stuck in the mud.

It's no secret that the most important factor in student success is an excellent teacher. And research shows that exceptional teachers are especially important for low-income students since poverty can undermine educational efforts.

Nonetheless, LAUSD has decided that the schools for "underprivileged" students should give the kids a taste of resort life on the hallowed ground of a martyred progressive politician. Too bad the teachers' union won't play ball:

Yet inner-city schools are top-heavy with instructional rookies. Union rules that let teachers choose schools by seniority mean the lowest-performing schools face an endless stream of new teachers and perpetual vacancies.

Common sense says:

And talk to the students who beat the odds, who rise from tough circumstances and head to college. They won't thank the skylights or the curving stairwells or the pricey garage. They'll tell you about the teachers who turned them on to poetry, demystified geometry, made history come alive.

Common sense asks: What were the per/foot costs of Washington's, Lincoln's, or Reagan's classrooms? And, did their Union teachers complain about the teaching environment?