For almost 30 years, thousands of Los Angeles Unified School students in the Mid-Wilshire district have been waking up early to be bused to schools farther away in their district. As of Sept. 13, those students are within walking distance of their new school complex, Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. The complex cost $578 million, which makes it the most expensive school in LAUSD and perhaps the country. It contains six pilot schools for elementary through high school students at the site of the former Ambassador Hotel. The complex is part of a larger plan to build 131 new schools across LAUSD. The project—paid for with a combination of voter-approved bond dollars, special assessments against property taxes, and a state program that matches funds—began in 2000 and is projected to be complete in 2012.
The price tag has raised some eyebrows nationwide. Edwin Van Ginkel, senior development manager with LAUSD, says the cost escalated when construction costs in Los Angeles spiked in 2006 when bidding for the property began. The district entered bidding wars for the property with historic preservationists and Donald Trump, who had hoped to build the world's largest tower at the site.
Grandiose as it may be, the RFK Community Schools is intended to be a neighborhood school. "Kids are at risk when they make transitions to schools," says Van Ginkel. "Most of the kids entering kindergarten will stay on this campus through graduation. We hope they'll be excited about the history and excited about the region."