Courtesy image.

In Thursday’s School Board meeting, members are expected to approve SMMUSD’s plan to purchase a building at 1717 4th Street to become the new District headquarters. The space is adjacent to the Doubletree Suites and next to Santa Monica High School and the Civic Center. The $21 million purchase will not impact the General Fund, but will be financed through redevelopment agency funding and by leasing the District’s current office space at 1651 16th St.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District believes the new space will better serve the community by creating a more visible and publicly accessible headquarters, which will place all District departments under one roof increasing efficiency and collaboration. The deal has been negotiated privately with the consultation of real estate and economic experts in order to achieve the best possible deal, according to the District.

“Most of what we do happens on the school campuses, but everything that happens on the school campuses can’t happen without a District office and so the District office being able to work more clearly, more collaboratively, and more creatively together really allows us to help the public,” said Carey Upton, SMMUSD Chief Operations Officer.

The new building has 31,000 square feet of space compared to 22,000 square feet in the existing office. Due to limited space at the current headquarters, the District rents additional space for Educational Services in the back of the building and Child Development Services works in a separate building at 4th St. and Ashland Ave.

“This is an opportunity for putting people together, having us be able to speak and communicate. It’s those casual times when you see folks that builds the team and helps us to communicate,” said Upton. “Right now with half of educational services here (16th St.) and child development services far away we don’t see each other and don’t make connections.”

The new location is next to Santa Monica High School, where a quarter of the District’s students are enrolled. The District believes this new location will make it easier for the public to locate and access the Board meeting room, human resources area, and Child Development Services.

If approved, the $21 million purchase will be financed through the sale of Certificates of Participation, which will operate similar to a mortgage. The COPs will be paid back by leasing the existing office space on 1651 16th St. and through Redevelopment (“RDA”) Facility Pass Through Funds. The District receives around $4.2 million in these RDA funds annually. They can only be used for capital development and cannot be applied toward the General Fund.

Despite the current economic situation, the District is confident that they will be able to broker a commercial lease for the 16th St. office, which is predicted to eventually add revenue to the General Fund to support teachers, staff and operations.

“I’ve got real estate professionals, a financial advisor, and an economist all looking at this question and we did a clear appraisal of all of the facilities understanding what could happen. We are being very conservative about it and yet we are in Santa Monica, there will still be needs for offices,” said Upton.

While the public will be hearing about this office purchase for the first time in Thursday’s Board meeting, it has been discussed by Board members several times in closed sessions. The current owners of the office building, the Doubletree Hotel, approached the District with the offer around a year ago.

“We’ve been talking in the last few days with a number of our stakeholders and they are very supportive,” said Upton. “I know we will have some detractors and there will be some people who ask ‘what are we doing and why haven’t we talked about it, what were we thinking and shouldn’t we use this money for teachers?’, so we are trying to be as clear as we can about why the decision was made and what a great benefit it is.”

The Board meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Zoom this Thursday. Members of the public who wish to make a public comment can do so by completing a Google survey sign up at tinyurl.com/y23abntq, which will open 30 minutes prior to the meeting.

Clara@smdp.com