An important milestone for the early childhood community occurs this evening (Wednesday, May 6) as the City of Santa Monica Planning Commission takes action to adjust the Civic Center Site Plan document to meet various site constraints for the planned Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC). A number of underground utilities and easements are prompting the changes to the building envelope.

Both changes will result in increased public benefits. The public half of the facility will now include an additional classroom, providing the opportunity to combine both classrooms on site into a large community meeting space, and the “student” (child) side of the building will now accommodate an additional ten children, for a total of 110 children in all.

The project began its life soon after the City of Santa Monica acquired the RAND property in 2000. In developing the Civic Center Site Plan, the City committed to provide an early education facility, with certified staff, for the benefit of workers and (soon-to-be) residents within the Civic Center. In 2004, when Santa Monica College gained voter approval to construct an early childhood lab school as part of its early childhood education program, the agencies agreed to form a partnership providing mutual benefits. City funds, augmented with funding from RAND, would provide for the City’s share of the child facilities, College funds would provide for the instructional (public) share of the facilities, the City would provide land for both the child portion and the public portion of the project, and the College would fund the remaining costs of the project.

The partnership has proven important to assuring that the project goes forward. In 2012, the City lost redevelopment funding. Achieving the project using only its own resources would have been quite burdensome to the City.

The land and buildings of the ECEC continue to be subject to City planning codes, as the Civic Center Site Plan is the controlling document, and additionally, the College’s bond language includes this same provision.

The lease between the City and the College provides the College with a number of slots for children of its full-time employees; however, the College does not anticipate the full use of its allotment. The College intends to continue its participation in the Santa Monica Pre-School Collaborative with the school district, a program that includes a child education facility at John Adams Middle School, adjacent to the main SMC campus. This program has proven sufficient to meet the needs of SMC staff and students.

These unused SMC slots, together with the additional slots for children that may be made available as a result of Planning Commission action, will likely be attractive to the hotel workers and Santa Monica High School staff who work within a block or so of the proposed facility.

As a result, a suggestion recently advanced in the Santa Monica Daily Press to move the ECEC to Sunset Park, nearer to SMC’s main campus, would significantly disadvantage the workers and residents of the Civic Center and adjacent institutions.

As an additional consideration, the scale of the proposed ECEC is such that a nonprofit operator can successfully provide early childhood education services at an affordable price, without requiring ongoing subsidies. This particular configuration and partnership would be difficult to duplicate elsewhere.

The ECEC, providing educational services for infants, toddlers, children to age 5, and a broad diversity of children including those with special needs, will be an important addition to our community.

We are especially grateful and offer our deep thanks to the many members of the Santa Monica Child Care and Early Education Task Force, who have helped guide and shape this project from its start.

Donald Girard is the Senior Director of Government Relations and Institutional Communications at Santa Monica College.

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