Education

LAUSD will rebuild Roosevelt High — and tear down buildings linked to its historic past

A student walks toward an entrance of the historic
A student walks toward an entrance of the historic "R Building" on the campus of L.A. Unified's Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights.
Kyle Stokes/KPCC

It's official: Los Angeles' historic Roosevelt High School will get a massive and long-overdue rebuild of its aging campus.

But for some alumni, there's a flaw in the construction plans: the most historic, culturally-significant buildings on Roosevelt's campus will have to be torn down.

On Tuesday, L.A. Unified school board members gave final approval to a $173 million construction project for the 96 year-old Boyle Heights campus. The project will raze 11 of the campus' oldest buildings — including the original "R Building" — to make way for six brand-new buildings.

A rendering of a proposed new campus for Roosevelt High School in L.A.'s Boyle Heights neighborhood. The project would cost $173 million and is part of a more than $7.8 billion plan to extensively
A rendering of a proposed new campus for Roosevelt High School in L.A.'s Boyle Heights neighborhood. The project would cost $173 million and is part of a more than $7.8 billion plan to extensively "modernize" 11 campuses across the L.A. Unified School District.
LAUSD

Many current students and teachers have cheered the project, saying they've had to put up with crumbling classrooms for too long.

As one Roosevelt student wrote in a public comment during a lengthy review process: "Rebuild this old a** school."

However, a group of alumni and preservationists had argued the project tears down physical links to Roosevelt's history. Roosevelt was one of the five original sites of mass walkouts Latino students staged in 1968 to protest racially-prejudiced teachers and unequal treatment in the school system.

State Assemblywoman Wendy Carillo and L.A. City Council member Gil Cedillo had both urged the district to explore alternative proposals to preserve and renovate Roosevelt's original "R Building" rather than demolish it entirely.

"You will be held accountable," project opponent and Roosevelt alumna Vivian Escalante told board members Tuesday, "for the dismissal of almost 100 years of history in my community of Boyle Heights. You will have to apologize to your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and explain why the R Building is no longer with us."

But project planners estimated such a renovation would have increased the cost of the project by another $40 million — and it would've required an almost total rebuild of the building's interior.

And other parents came to the board's meeting Tuesday to insist the best way to honor the school's history was to move forward with the R Building's demolition.

"A main motive of the 1968 student walkouts was to demand quality education in a better learning environment," said Griselda Perez, who has one son already attending Roosevelt and another two children who will eventually attend there. "This project — that’s it! That’s what it is. It’s what they demanded in 1968."