The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is expected to decide the fate of a decades-old mural that sits at the former location of John Muir Elementary School this week during Thursday’s board meeting.

The “major action item” was tabled for further discussion during the board’s previous meeting, but it’s been recommended that the board direct staff paint the mural, which is located on the southeast walls of the newly-named Michelle and Barack Obama Center for Inquiry and Exploration, the same color as the exterior of the building, according to Thursday’s agenda. “It is further recommended that the board of education direct staff to establish an inclusive community process that involves the school and broader community in creating a new mural that will pay homage to the Muir Woods mural and also reflect the vision for the Michelle and Barack Obama Center for Inquiry and Exploration campus,” the agenda adds, before discussing the motives behind the change.

“The Muir Woods mural has eroded over time,” staff said, describing how the mural painted in the 1970s possesses lead paint that’s peeled, contaminated the planter and risks going into the stormwater system out to the ocean. “Painting the walls will enable the complete removal of lead paint, and allow for the building to look suitable for a school environment as the district engages with the community in a collaborative and inclusive process that will lead to a new mural.”

There has been strong interest in saving, preserving or replicating the mural and the recent community outpour of support has articulated that interest in a variety of ways but the mural has deteriorated, staff said. The district has already attempted to address the lead paint concerns by scraping the flaking paint and painting over it with a clear coat. “The result is an unsightly set of walls on a prominent corner of the facility.”

This is why the proposed plan, “with board direction, is to encapsulate and paint the walls the same color as the rest of the exterior of the building. The site’s new name, Michelle and Barack Obama Center for Inquiry and Exploration, would then be painted on top of the solid exterior color, (and) moving forward, a collaborative and inclusive community process — one that engages members of the school community and the larger community of which the district is a part — can enable collaboration on a new mural that pays homage to the Muir Woods mural while providing continuity with the future use of the school site.”

But regardless of what replaces the current Muir Woods mural, the walls must be painted first, staff said, adding, “The mural cannot simply be refurbished; it must be painted anew even if it were to be replaced with a replica of the Muir Woods mural painted in the 1970s.”

“Staff’s proposal represents an attempt to accommodate both sets of interests in a respectful manner, one which will allow for a win for everyone,” according to the agenda.

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