Workers are closing in on completing five major school projects across Los Angeles. The work is part of Los Angeles Unified School District’s $20-billion school construction and modernization bond program, a herculean effort in which district officials seek to remedy three decades of under-construction by building 131 new schools and completing 20,000 modernization projects by 2012.

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“During those 30 years, the population of L.A. grew – some areas faster than others,” says Neil Gamble, director of facilities construction for LAUSD. “To handle school overcrowding, we implemented forced busing, sending students from overburdened schools to less crowded ones.

“We went to multi-track calendars – year-round school. It was not a good situation. Starting in 1997, our goal has been to build 131 schools and get every kid into neighborhood schools and off multi-track calendars.”

As ambitious as that goal sounds, the bond program is one of those rare instances where the reality matches the rhetoric. Across Southern California, LAUSD is putting up new facilities so fast that officials have assigned them numbers just to keep track.

For example, the project rising at 4211 Dozer St. may have officially been christened Esteban Torres High School, but in district parlance it’s East L.A. High School No. 2. Work on the $206.7-million facility began in January 2008 and was scheduled to be finished in time for the fall semester.

The district chose Clark Construction of Los Angeles as general contractor for the project and L.A.-headquartered Langdon Wilson as project architect.

“The school was designed on the basis of what the district calls a small learning community,” says Richard Sholl, project director for Langdon Wilson. “They wanted to make a big school look like a whole bunch of little schools.”

The school will feature five three-story classroom buildings, a library, multipurpose room, two gymnasiums, food service and lunch shelter, and a subterranean garage with 115 parking slots. The first new high school in East Los Angeles in more than 50 years, the 80-classroom facility will provide 2,322 seats and relieve pressure from nearby Roosevelt and Garfield high schools.

A key element of many of the new schools being built under the bond program are their designations as neighborhood resources. Through joint-use agreements and other arrangements with the district, members of the community at large will be allowed to use certain school facilities, including libraries, multipurpose rooms and athletic fields.

At East L.A. High School No. 2, for example, district officials worked out an agreement with the East Los Angeles Classic Theater Co. to share the multipurpose room and even help build a separate outdoor theater venue. The actors volunteer time teaching students the craft.

The 214,600-sq-ft Central Region High School No. 16 at 300 E. 53rd St. in South Los Angeles, includes two three-story classroom buildings; a parking structure with rooftop basketball and tennis courts; multipurpose building; food service and lunch shelter; administrative support services with a library on the second floor; and a 30-ft-tall, single-story gymnasium.

Turner Construction of Los Angeles is general contractor for the $171-million school, with the L.A. offices of AC Martin Partners onboard as project architect.

Construction started in January 2009 and the facility is on schedule for completion by April. A 2,025-seat school, it will relieve congestion at the district’s Santee Education Complex, allowing that facility to operate on a traditional two-semester schedule.

Turner Construction is also GC for the $230.8-million Central Region High School No. 13 at 2050 San Fernando Road in Northeast L.A. and Valley Region High School No. 5 at 1001 Arroyo Ave. in the city of San Fernando.

Turner project manager Nino Adamo says that when completed in March 2011, the 220,000-sq-ft Central Region High School No. 13 will be one of the greenest schools in the district. Work started on the project in October 2008.