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The joy of a new school - LACHSA students celebrate a $31 million home of their own

Students Nathan Kirchoff and Kay Dee Beaumont during class at the L.A. County High School for the Arts' new three-level facility. New classrooms, like this one, also double as dance studios. Mary Plummer/KPCC

The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts is well-known as one of the top public arts high schools in the area, but one thing it hasn't had is a home of its own.

For 28 years the county school has shared classroom space with Cal State L.A. During that time, the school has produced well known alumni such as singer Josh Groban and actress Jenna Elfman. 

In late March, the staff and students of LACHSA, as it is more commonly known, finally solved that problem and made the move into a brand new, $31 million, three-level facility. 

"It's beautiful, I love it," said student Daniel Moore, a senior. "It’s just a really gorgeous place."

Until now, students and staff had to juggle their school days among five different buildings on the Cal State L.A.'s sprawling campus. Now everything is in one building (the school negotiated a 40-year lease to use the land).

The new LACHSA has a black-box theater, along with a cinematic arts studio and 21 loft-style classrooms, most of which double as dance studios.

"It’s been a long time coming and I have to say everyone in our LACHSA community has been waiting for this," said principal George Simpson.

This is the first time the school has had its own theater to  conduct performances. Moore was one of the first students to use the new space. He performed in the musical Cabaret, which wrapped up last month.

"It's just a really, really great place to do all kinds of theater," said Moore. "It's very intimate."

Officials received initial funding to build the school 10 years ago. But the project dragged on longer than most -- the process was put on hold during the financial crisis and the school had to negotiate the land lease from Cal State LA. Design approvals took about a year, plus the new building ran into serious construction delays, according to Jema Estrella, assistant director of facilities and construction for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

But now that the new school building is in place, students are ecstatic, according to Jon Artigo, chair of the school's Cinematic Arts Department. One big reason for that is all of the new film equipment.

The school has purchased four RED EPIC cameras, which run about $20,000 each. In addition, it has one of Sony's new F55, which sells for about $30,000. The cameras are outfitted with lenses that run between $10,000-$20,000 apiece. 

It's highly unusual for a high school to have such sophisticated equipment. The RED EPIC is a favorite in Hollywood. It was used to shoot the new season of Arrested Development and for Baz Luhrmann's new version of The Great Gatsby.

As students discover the new cameras, they are  "grabbing their heads, falling to the ground,  going 'Oh my gosh!'" said Artigo. 

"There are some colleges that have film majors that, like, don’t have as good of stuff as this," said Phillip Roquemore, a junior. "I think it’s amazing." 

Phillip wants to be a director or a screenwriter. With another year ahead of him at the high school, he can’t believe his luck.

"We were getting like 90 boxes a week or whatever, and we’re like this is awesome," Phillip said with a laugh. 

In all, Artigo estimates that the school now has hundreds of thousands of dollars of film equipment. 

A little excessive for teenagers? Artigo doesn’t think so.

"We need to have the top of the line stuff  to be able to introduce it to our kids," he said.  "In 5, 10, 15 years from now, I want it to be that the people who are winning Academy Awards are talking about how they went to LACHSA."

In the fall, the school will welcome its first group of freshman who will major in Cinematic Arts. 

The school was funded by the state, with help from private donations. The Leonetti-O'Connell Family Foundation provided a matching gift to help construct the new theater and L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich - a co-founder of the school - is supplying an $875,000 grant for the construction of an amphitheater that is set to be completed in the fall of 2014.