August 16, 2006 - From the August, 2006 issue

L.A. Community Colleges' $2.2 Billion Bond Is Modernizing Campuses With Green Buildings

For its nearly $20 billion construction campaign, the LAUSD grabs headlines as often as it grabs land. But it is not the only educational institution trying to spiff itself up in an age of rising construction costs and scarce public funds. The L.A. Community College District is in the midst of spending $2.2 billion in Prop A/AA bond funds, but, unlike the LAUSD, LACCD is improving its nine existing campuses rather than building new ones. TPR was pleased to speak with Director of Planning Larry Eisenberg about his plans for better, greener campuses.

Larry Eisenberg

The Community College District has been engaged in a $2.2 billion building program for over three years. What are your goals, and what are your accomplishments to date?

Our goal is nothing less than to modernize and transform all nine of our colleges and make them even more attractive places to get a higher education. This process is well underway, with construction happening at all nine colleges and two satellite locations as well. We have new buildings under construction, major renovations taking place, upgrades of utility and infrastructure, creation of new classrooms, and all of it is being done under the mantra of sustainable building.

We've been describing our current phase as "the wave"-with major construction now underway. We're spending $5 million a week, and I anticipate that within a few more months we'll be spending maybe three times that per week. This construction "wave" will probably go on for two years at this pace.

With your work and the $18 billion that LAUSD and other school districts in the metropolitan area are spending, you have heated up the marketplace. What consequence does this market have for your building plans?

The increase in construction costs has been shocking, to say the least. When I came to LACCD about three years ago, the first thing I asked was how much it costs to build in L.A. The answer was about $250 a foot. That number became the basis we used to estimate our projects. Currently, we are at close to $500 a foot. Other public entities have been seeing the same kind of increases. It's a shocking, unprecedented increase that is eating programs alive. We did master plans for each college and created a list of projects at each-in many cases 25–30 projects long, given the long amount of time that we've gone without building anything. But, with costs doubling, in essence, our list is now cut in half.

It's forced a lot of very difficult decisions. We've done a lot of design and planning work and we have about 200 architectural teams working for our program. Because of these construction cost increases, only half the projects are going to be delivered. My concept has been to take many of the projects into design, get them to a good stopping point, and then put them on the shelf. If we get future funding, we'll be able to quickly move them off the shelf and into construction.

Compared to other educational entities, such as LAUSD, how much time do your facilities project take from inception to completion?

Our first bond issue, Proposition A, passed in April 2001, so we're about five years into the program. In that time, we've completed master plans, environmental impact reports, project designs, construction bidding, and reviews by the Division of State Architect, which is required by state law for all of our projects. All those things factored into a project site goal of delivery in five years. My sense is that for other entities, LAUSD in particular, the project cycle is probably six years, so we compare favorably.

We've been working to shorten the time we're spending in project development. We've worked with the Division of State Architect to create a pilot program to radically shorten the time that designs spend in DSA for review. Some of the changes are no-brainers. One is to simply get drawings finished and complete and correct when they are turned in. Another change is that we have agreed to a schedule so that we make appointments, we keep the appointments that we set. So when we come in for review, DSA has staff available and ready.

A lot of people blame the DSA for delay in the K-14 construction. The reality is that actual time for review in DSA is relatively short: a matter of weeks for even the lengthiest project. What causes the long delays is the time it takes for the architects to make the corrections. That is time that we can control. The architectural community has not been aggressive enough in addressing DSA comments. Probably half of the so-called DSA time is spent with the drawings in the architect's studio. Now that we have learned this, we are starting to change the process to make those architects more accountable to us.

You've spoken about using the capital investments of educational institutions to revitalize neighborhoods and communities and integrate community colleges into the fabric of their local constituencies. How difficult to achieve is this goal?

I have been enthusiastic about it because it's an important idea. I've focused on high-density development, which is consistent with LACCD's commitment to sustainable development. We want to minimize the amount of transportation needed to get to school. At the same time, it makes sense for us to have other services available.

When students show up for college, if they need to drop off dry cleaning, shop for groceries, or pick up eyeglasses-whatever they need to do-those services should be available. Our colleges are part of the community and should be used by the community. We want people to come and use the facilities for community meetings and things like that. The only way to do that is to integrate the community into the school.


To make that happen in Los Angeles has been more difficult than I anticipated. I was excited about an opportunity in South Gate, but we weren't able to close that deal. I'm hoping that we can re-create that concept on a different site in South Gate, but it will require multiple jurisdictions to cooperate and get involved. In Los Angeles, for some reason, an ethic of cooperation between large public agencies has been difficult to come by. It's been like pulling teeth among the various bureaucracies. If we are going to fully realize the potential of the investment we are making, we need to find a way to work more efficiently and cooperatively.

Recently County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky spoke about a new joint-use school and health center in Sun Valley. He said, "The lesson is that where there's a will, there's a way. . . . it languished in the bureaucracy in both the county and the school district. Finally I called the superintendent and proposed this, and he said yes." Who must make these calls? Who must pull public parties together to actually develop collaborative learning centers?

Our chancellor, Rocky Young, and our college presidents have had no hesitation to engage with others. But we've found that oftentimes the politics are tricky. Although we may be interested in making something happen, some obstacle comes along that is out of the control of both parties.

A perfect example is Mission College, where we had been working for five years on a deal with the county to use some of the acreage at next-door El Cariso Park to expand the College. It was a very complex deal. We worked on it for five years to put it together, designing facilities and drafting basic agreements, but a quirk of federal and local law-that the county had to own the land that would have been the new location of the ball fields-prevented us from closing the deal.

So here we have a deal that would have been beneficial for the citizens, who would get lovely new park facilities, and for the college, which would get the acreage it needs for additional facilities that the community could have in turn used. The law has just not kept up with the creative ideas for cooperation that are being developed, and that's unfortunate.

With over 200 architectural teams working for you, how does the district assure sustainable design and inclusion of renewable energy features? Is sustainable design too expensive to be practical?

That is one of the myths of the sustainable business. The reality is that, because of the changes in the marketplace, sustainable materials are being offered at the same price that any other kind of material. As you know, the U.S. Green Building Council has a certification program called LEED. Our Board of Trustees set a policy of all new buildings being "Certified," which is the most basic LEED level. We're finding that there is no cost premium if we go for the Certified or even Silver.

The buildings that we're going to deliver are more likely going to be Silver, and we'll probably have some Gold. Once you get to the Gold and Platinum level you start to incur extra up-front costs because they involve highly efficient energy systems: boilers, fans, and motors. But, over the life cycle, the savings is amazing. They pay for themselves within a 20-25-year period.

We cut the ribbon on our first LEED-certified building earlier this year with the maintenance and operations building at Valley College. It has all the green characteristics you could want: photovoltaics, extra insulation, minimal use of materials-such as not putting in ceilings where we don't need them, or using raw concrete instead of paint-drought resistant landscaping, and other sustainable strategies and techniques.

If there is a bias to TPR, it is a bias in favor of community planning and master planning. School and educational facilities are literally not on the general plans or city community plans. Is that a problem if we want to integrate LACCD's capital investments into neighborhoods and communities?

It's a plus and a minus. We've done master planning, and we use master plans to evaluate the environmental impact of what we're doing. Things like traffic, noise, and lighting impact neighbors all around us and we have to be sensitive to them. Our traffic impacts extend not just to the streets next to the colleges, but out to major connectors.

We were looking at the West Los Angeles College plan and we found we were impacting intersections throughout Culver City. Our process must integrate and deal with these issues. If we are causing an impact, we need to fix it. At the same time, we want our plans to bring the community in and have the community use the facilities that we are building. Our colleges are facilities for the community and so we need to look for ways to ensure that the communities benefit from the process.


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