School Daze

School Daze

Prototype by Gonzalez Goodale.
Courtesy Gonzalez Goodale Architects

Early last year the LA Unified School District (LAUSD) announced an innovative program to design contemporary, prefabricated prototype buildings that could serve as new school facilities or as temporary classrooms.

Winning designs, produced by LA firms Hodgetts+Fung, Swift Lee Office, and Gonzalez Goodale, ranged from 6,000 to 30,000 square feet and were to be clad in a variety of materials, from steel-mesh panels to fiberglass. The goal: structures that would be easy to build and maintain, and also be affordable and flexible. Design and construction was to begin immediately.

By this spring most projects had made it through design development, and the search was on to find test sites. But recently the district’s board voted to reroute the program’s funds to pay for wireless connectivity at existing schools, putting the program on hold.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Craig Hodgetts of Hodgetts+Fung. “We could put these together so quickly, and now here we are waiting.”

Hodgetts+Fung’s design (left) and Swift Lee Office’s prototype (right).
Courtesy Hodgetts+Fung and SLO

In order to continue with the initiativ which means completing designs, finding test sites for building prototypes, the district’s planning department is scrambling to find a new funding source. Funds could come from unused monies in the district’s current building program, but the only clear source on the horizon, said LAUSD’s deputy director of planning and development Richard Luke, is Bond Measure Q, a $7 billion school modernization measure. Those funds will likely not be accessible until 2014 at the earliest, he said.

In the meantime the district is hoping to encourage its charter schools which have their own budgets to purchase some of the prototypes. In late May, the district sponsored a presentation of the schemes to charter school leaders, who, according to Hodgetts, were thrilled.

“They asked us point-blank when they could buy these,” said Hodgetts. “They said we need this!”

“It has always been our intention to allow interested third parties access to the schemes as well,” added LAUSD’s Luke.