School district strikes deal with opponents of Roosevelt High demolition & modernization

Rendering of modernized Roosevelt campus

Boyle Heights  —  L.A. Unified will build a new social justice learning center at Roosevelt High and try to preserve the entrance to a landmark classroom building as part of a settlement with those opposed to demolishing most of the old campus to make way for a $173 million modernization.

“It is unfortunate that due to seismic and financial constraints, the physical structure at Roosevelt High School could not be saved,” said Councilman Gil Cedillo, a Roosevelt graduate who had initially opposed the demolition plans. “However, the living legacy of the school, the elite athletes, public servants, business entrepreneurs and social justice warriors that emerged from there, will be memorialized through a social justice center at the new state of the art facility.”

As part of the agreement announced Thursday with the Committee to Defend Roosevelt, L.A. Unified has pledged to spend about $1 million to try and preserve the entrance and front steps leading to the R Building, the oldest and largest building on campus. That chunk of the building would be relocated and become part of a memorial in the school quad, according to officials. If preservation is not possible, a replica will be constructed.

In addition, the district said it would spend several million dollars to build a new Social Justice Learning Center that would educate and honor the school’s role in the student walkouts of 1968 — a pivotal moment in the Chicano civil rights movement — as well as generations of immigrants and notable alumni that attended the school. Constructing the building, however, would also be contingent on money raised through a private fundraising effort, officials said.

“As an alumni of Roosevelt, I was hoping to save the historic R Building,” said Steven Ybarra, a member of the Board of Directors of the Committee to Defend Roosevelt. “It will be a loss that nothing can replace, however, I am pleased to see a significant part of the building will be preserved and relocated.”

The settlement, however, did not include the L.A. Conservancy, the city’s leading historic preservation group that wanted the R Building restored. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which had placed Roosevelt and several other Eastside schools on its list of most endangered historic places, was also not involved. A representative for the L.A. Conservancy said the group would not comment on the deal.

Supporters of the modernization plan had said that the need to provide up-to-date and safe classrooms and facilities outweighed the historic significance of the R Building and other old structures.

The new buildings planned for Roosevelt High | Roosevelt High School Comprehensive Modernization Project

The project would add several new classroom buildings as well as a new administration building and an auditorium/performing arts center that would frame a formal entrance to the campus on 4th Street.  A new 43,000-square-foot gymnasium with 800 bleacher seats would rise near the cafeteria while an approximately 6,000-square-foot wellness clinic  — open to the community as well as students — would be located near the library building and pool.

It will take about four years to complete the project, with construction taking place in phases so class could continue, according to the initial study. When completed, Roosevelt would have a capacity for  2,600 students in 111 classrooms — 21 fewer than it has today.

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