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Published in Print: March 12, 2003, as No Criminal Wrongdoing Found In L.A. School Project

No Criminal Wrongdoing Found In L.A. School Project

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The Los Angeles County district attorney announced last week that no criminal charges will be filed over the construction of the Belmont Learning Complex, believed to be the nation's most expensive school project.

District Attorney Steve Cooley called the half-built education center a "civic tragedy of mistakes, bad judgment, and no accountability" by the 737,000- student Los Angeles Unified School District. Still, Mr. Cooley's 241-page report found no prosecutable misconduct by school officials, lawyers, or contractors involved in the Belmont project.

"Unfortunately, district policies and procedures, ineffective state laws, and multiple layers of oversight with no accountability created a 'perfect storm' of factors that led to the Belmont fiasco," Mr. Cooley said in a statement.

Mr. Cooley recommended that the district resolve environmental issues in the planning stages of future projects and employ more specific terms regarding contractor payment schedules and front-loading of profits.

Superintendent Roy Romer agreed with the recommendations, many of which he said were already in place.

Belmont's construction was first halted in 2000, because environmental toxins were discovered on the site, which is part of a former oil field in downtown Los Angeles. The project's construction costs at that point had reached $154 million, with about half of the complex completed. District officials estimated it would cost up to $87 million in additional spending to finish the project and address the environmental concerns.

The discovery late last year of an earthquake fault line underneath two of the campus's buildings nixed any plans to resume building. State law prohibits school construction within 50 feet of an active earthquake fault line. ("Romer Puts New Hold on Troubled Belmont Site," Jan. 8, 2003.)

Vol. 22, Issue 26, Page 5

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