A work crew moves dirt for a new synthetic field at Santa Monica High School on Thursday. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

SAMOHI — An Olympic-sized swimming pool. Six regulation tennis courts. Up to eight basketball courts. And, the crowning glory, a Vikings football stadium.

Those are just some of the $360 million worth of sports facilities being imagined for the Santa Monica High School campus, which the Board of Education was asked to approve in concept Wednesday night.

With that approval, staff would have the ability to incorporate the wider vision into an environmental impact document that’s needed before construction can begin on one piece of the vision that’s already funded — a resurfaced football field, brand new practice gym, restroom facilities and improvements to the Greek Theater.

Catherine Baxter, the dean of students at Samohi, told board members that she had instructed staff to dream big, but to do so once and then get down to the nitty gritty of how to make those dreams a reality.

She characterized the approach, which sets specific infrastructure goals and orders them by importance, as a paradigm shift.

“In 2007, we started thinking differently about how to use taxpayer money for construction,” Baxter said. “Before, we said here’s money, what do we wish we could do with it?”

This time, stakeholders at the school worked together to form a plan so that when those dollars arrived, they would already have a purpose.

With that in mind, a list of nine project priorities, numbered in order of desire rather than economic or temporal feasibility, was created.

The first and second priorities were for a football stadium equipped with a competition-quality soccer field and a new baseball or softball field, also marked for soccer use.

Next came what’s now known as the north and south gyms. The south gym, ranked fourth on the priority scale, is the project that’s already received funding through City Hall’s redevelopment agency.

The next three, in descending order of priority, were an Olympic-size swimming pool, outdoor basketball courts and six regulation tennis courts.

Rounding out the bottom two were improvements to the Greek Theater and a 950-space subterranean parking garage, which staff hope would fix problems caused by the current dearth of parking in and around the campus.

“Can we fit all these things? I don’t know yet,” Baxter said. “But we’re working on that.”

At the minimum, the priorities represent a “menu of choices” that will allow the administration to stay nimble and move forward with certain projects as funding comes in, said Stuart Sam, director of facility improvements with the district.

The beauty of the planning is that each piece is envisioned as a whole, so if the funding gets cut off and no other priorities can be achieved, the campus isn’t left with a gaping hole.

If completed in full, the projects would total $360 million and constitute a 50 percent increase in the amount of facility space compared to what’s on campus now.

Nobody knows where that money will come from.

In 2006, Santa Monicans approved Measure BB, a $268 million bond to be used for infrastructure improvements. So far, that money has only been allocated for educational facilities and equipment like classrooms, computers and even a new school at the Edison Language Academy.

At this point, no BB money will be used on the new sports facilities, but board members recently reactivated a commission to look at the possibility of not only a new bond, but also a parcel tax.

Board member Ralph Mechur mentioned the possibility of such a bond Wednesday night.

Initially, board members expressed admiration for the vision, but balked at the price tags associated with some of the projects, particularly the $90 million stadium, which included a 950-space, two-level subterranean parking garage.

“I don’t think we have a powerhouse football team that needs a stadium, I really don’t,” said board member Maria Leon Vasquez.

Maybe not, replied Athletic Director Daniel Escalera, but the proposed stadium would solve logistical problems that come with using fields at John Adams Middle School, which is plagued with inadequate parking, or at Santa Monica College, which can’t always be reserved.

Finally, it’s not just about football, Escalera said.

“People see our facilities and then say they’re going to go somewhere else,” he said, noting that a nearby private school has had a lot of success in poaching star players from the Samohi teams for just that reason.

Board members were won over less by the appeals of the staff, and more by the logic that although the phases could always be scaled down when time came for execution, it would be much harder, and more expensive, to enhance a bare bones plan.

“We can work backwards and scope to the budget that we have,” Sam said.

The opening shot of the construction has already begun.

The Hellas Construction Company began tearing up the existing natural football field to prepare it for the installation of new synthetic turf, which school officials expect to be done in time for the first home football game for either the freshman and junior varsity teams. The varsity team plays at Corsair Field on the campus of Santa Monica College.

The work is part of a $57 million deal with City Hall, which will pay for the new turf as well as the construction of the south gym, otherwise known as “priority four.”

Getting the ball rolling on the new turf was critical both to make sure that sports teams could use it in the fall and to fulfill a field-sharing agreement with City Hall that shovels $5.5 million from a half-cent sales tax increase into school coffers.

That project almost hit a snag last week when a local company, which was passed over for the resurfacing, made a compelling appeal to board members to go against staff’s recommendation and award the contract to the Montanari Company.

To do so would have forced staff to undergo a new request for proposal process, which would have delayed the process by months, said Jan Maez, assistant superintendent and chief financial officer for the district, at the July 20 meeting.

“We’re running out of time to get this done this summer,” Maez said, noting that if not, the project wouldn’t get done until summer 2012.

While the field is under construction, the football teams are practicing on the baseball and softball fields.

Samohi football coach Travis Clark said he can’t wait to get a crack at the new facilities, which will be “a nice change of pace.”


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