Our sister publication, Southeast Construction, ran a blog last week by construction industry expert/civil engineer Ted Garrison regarding the opening of the middle school and high school portions of the expansive K-12 Central Los Angeles Learning Center #1. The Ormond Beach, Fla.-based consultant’s blog title was “Extravagant Construction is Unnecessary.” He begins: “What is wrong with the people designing schools in California? Don’t they know the state is going broke? Despite having trouble paying teachers, they can afford to build a Taj Mahal school?”

This is not a rant dumping on Mr. Garrison or his stance on school design and construction. It’s an opinion and, in fact, I agree with much of what he says about schools in general. Education is getting the short end of the stick not just in California, but nationwide, community by community. Funding, based on reduced tax revenues in this recession, is failing to keep up with the basic demands of the teachers, parents and students. Absolutely agree.

This particular $578-million school project, however, accomplishes some goals beyond just being big in size and concept, and its expense. As an elementary, middle and high school complex (on the site of the former Ambassador Hotel, where Sen. Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968), it will accommodate 4,400 students who live within nine blocks from the site and had previously been bussed all over LA. It is high-tech, state-of-the-art, sustainable, all the clichés.

It other words, it’s sorely needed. And if the complex wins the students’ hearts, they might just stay until graduation, yes?

It is also part of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s $20-billion bond program, which began in 1997 and will include 131 new schools and 20,000 modernizations by 2012. Many of these projects involve needed new construction and replacing very old and unstable structures.

As you probably know, LAUSD has been a huge employer of the AEC community for many years. Top architects (Gonzalez/Goodale did the learning center design), contractors (like Clark, Turner, Hensel Phelps, Suffolk) and thousands of subs have been part of this historic project. Especially in these past three years, this employment opportunity has been, again, sorely needed.

I asked the LAUSD how many skilled workers were involved in the Central LA Learning Center project and they quoted a number from the general contractor, Hensel Phelps -- 6,859, of which 1,678 were local district residents.

I think you can legitimately criticize the shear size and cost of the school complex (then again, everything’s bigger in LA), but I don’t think you can ignore the jobs that it provided, especially in an industry that is facing 17% unemployment.