The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Board of Education passed the district’s first historical resources policy last week, making SMMUSD one of only a few school districts in California with such a policy.

Superintendent Ben Drati said the robust historical resources policy is a win for the community because SMMUSD is committed to historic preservation goals and to adaptive reuse wherever feasible.

Specifically, the district’s newest administrative regulation and board policy will guide the district through a multi-step process when considering facilities projects and modernization at all campuses in Santa Monica and Malibu, according to district staff, who said they worked with the Santa Monica Conservancy to balance the interests of the community and the educational needs of current and future students.

Nearly half-a-decade ago, Board members approved a Samohi renovation plan that included the demolition of the 85-year-old History Building, but locals drummed up support last November for a petition that sought to save the beloved building.

SM Conservancy board member Nina Fresco called on SMMUSD to pause phase three of the Samohi Campus Plan because Historic Preservation, especially on a school site provides opportunities for multidisciplinary experiences in history, sustainability, art, architecture and culture.

District COO Carey Upton said he didn’t want the demolition to be seen by the community as the district not appreciating people’s love for the building.

“However, it is a building that no longer serves the education of our students and on a small campus,” Upton told the Daily Press. “We can’t keep a 30 something classroom building that doesn’t function for us.”

In the months since, SMMUSD’s board has joined local stakeholders in developing a policy that would outline a process for considering facilities projects and modernization at all campuses in Santa Monica and Malibu.

“When we developed this policy, we really were pushing towards staying with the national and state standards and not applying the local landmark criteria,” Upton said to the board during last week’s meeting. “As a more state agency, as school districts are, we are not obligated to follow the local (criteria).”

The full policy is available online, but district staff said in a recent news release it requires the district to commit to engaging qualified professionals who will prepare inventories of historical resources located at each SMMUSD school campus. The district will also be expected to use architects and engineers with demonstrated preservation expertise to consult and guide the planning and design process, and consult with interested third parties, including the Santa Monica Conservancy when potential impacts to identified historic resources are involved.

SM Conservancy Board Member Ruthann Lehrer expressed full support for the board policy, stating last week, “We greatly appreciate (SMMUSD’s) attention to these important historical resources issues and have appreciated a cooperative working relationship with staff.”

Lehrer added that she is happy to see the district taking steps to protect historical resources and looks forward to continuing to work together.

Esther Hickman, who launched a petition to “Save the History Building” in October, commended the SMMUSD School Board for adopting a historic resources policy while she thanked everybody who corresponded with district staff.

“This never could have been done without the herculean efforts of the SM Conservancy, Nina Fresco, and Ruthann Lehrer. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Hickman said in a note on the petition, which detailed how the board will still have the right to demolish if they think a building cannot be used for educational purposes. “But there is a process in place, and that is phenomenal news. The not-good news is, with the exception of the English building on 7th, the academic core on Prospect Hill at Samohi, which includes the history building, is still being demolished this summer and possibly sooner.”

Brennon@smdp.com