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LAUSD Sues Insurance Companies for Garfield Repairs

Los Angeles Unified has sued its property insurers for at least $13 million for allegedly balking at paying to reconstruct the James A. Garfield High School auditorium ravaged in a fire almost six years ago.

The breach-of-contract suit was filed last week by LAUSD against eight companies, including Lexington Insurance Co., Lloyd’s of London and Allied World Insurance Co. The $13 million is the amount recommended by an appraisal panel.

The suit also asks for a judge’s declaration that the district is correct in its assertions the companies are obligated to reimburse the district for its expenses.

The suit alleges that the insurers’ internal emails show their structural engineer agreed with a report by the state Division of State Architect that the entire auditorium needed to be demolished to assure it would be safe in an earthquake and also because of the need to upgrade Building B, of which the auditorium was a part.

However, the insurers’ adjuster “hid the report from the district for the next four years” and also “falsely denied its very existence,” the suit states.

Representatives of the insurers could not be immediately reached for comment.

The auditorium, built in 1925, was known for its vintage glass chandeliers, grand stage and elaborate plasterwork. It was destroyed by an arson fire on May 20, 2007. Before the blaze, it was the primary meeting facility for the East Los Angeles school’s student body, the suit states.

“Over the last 5 1/2 years, the students have instead needed to hold meetings, classes and performances in the cafeteria, an auto garage and other equally undesirable locations,” according to the suit, which also seeks punitive damages.

The district ultimately decided that it made more financial sense to tear down Building B and replace it with an entirely new structure now being built, the suit states. However, the district is only demanding from insurers the money to reimburse the LAUSD had it proceeded instead with a less costly reconstruction project, the suit states.

Garfield High was made famous by the movie “Stand and Deliver,” which told the inspirational story of students taught by calculus teacher Jaime Escalante. The role of Escalante earned actor Edward James Olmos an Academy Award nomination.