Malibu: Construction projects in Malibu include a redesign of the Malibu High School campus. Courtesy image

Voters in Santa Monica and Malibu took to ballot boxes in 2018 to voice their support for major school site improvements, with Malibu passing the $195 million Measure M bond and Santa Monica passing the $485 million Measure SMS bond. In the time since, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) has begun work on projects to improve school facilities in both communities.

At a special meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 26, the SMMUSD Board of Education will be discussing how to spend some of those massive bonds at school modernization projects in the two cities.

Santa Monica

Above all else, Santa Monica’s Measure SMS was designed to improve facilities at Samohi.

“The primary focus of Measure SMS will be to continue implementing the Samohi Campus Plan, improving the high school for all Santa Monica students,” according to the SMMUSD website.

The Samohi Discovery Building opened at the start of the current 2021-22 school year; the Exploration Building and Gold Gym were expected to be in operation by 2023.

With that project well underway, on Wednesday, a School Board discussion will focus on allocating the balance of that bond to projects at various Santa Monica elementary and middle schools.

The District has plans in the works at four local elementary schools and one local middle school, with two other school sites still being considered for improvement projects.

The SMMUSD Board of Education is now being asked to give direction on designs to renovate and expand the Grant Elementary library, plus renovate the school’s courtyard and consolidate TK and kindergarten classrooms; construct a classroom building, field and playground at Will Rogers Elementary; construct a makerspace building and improve TK/kindergarten facilities at Franklin Elementary; construct a classroom/support building at McKinley Elementary; and modernize the John Adams Middle School library.

The Board will also consider developing campus plans for Roosevelt Elementary and Lincoln Middle School.

“The next step for the campus plans, historic resources reports and SMS projects will be in-person community meetings being scheduled for the end of February and the month of March,” according to the staff report for the meeting. “These Future Facility meeting[s] will allow staff, parents and community members to walk the sites and see the recent improvements, remaining needs and the potential historic resources. The site walks will be followed by an information meeting and conversation on the next projects for the facilities.”

Malibu

When the SMMUSD Board of Education last met on Jan. 13, board members were cornered into extending a very tight deadline on a project to rebuild the Malibu High School campus using Measure M funds.

Malibu’s planning department requested the delay in approving the project’s environmental impact report (EIR), claiming it was not given time to thoroughly review responses to questions it had posed to the District about the major, $160 million project.

Though the extension was granted — reluctantly, at least in the case of Board Member and Malibu resident Craig Foster — members expressed concern that the delay would harm the chances of the campus project moving forward in time to have students in classrooms on the new campus by fall 2024 as had been the goal.

Board members also requested that outreach between the two elected bodies take place to help open channels of communication and reduce the chance of further delays.

“We, the Governing Board of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, are writing to you today seeking your commitment to help us in getting this project (the Malibu Middle and High School Specific Plan and the Phase 1 High School Building) entitled and constructed to the benefit of the City of Malibu’s students, parents, staff, and community,” reads an excerpt from the two-page letter drafted by SMMUSD board members and delivered to Malibu City Council and staff members. “We, as a Board, are committed to working closely with the City and we have directed our staff to do the same.”

The letter, dated Jan. 14 and later shared with the Daily Press, requested that Malibu staff consider the project a “top priority.” It also requested a schedule for when Malibu’s Council and Planning Commission would approve the project’s specific plan. Finally, it requested better communication going forward.

“It is natural for the staffs of two independent governmental entities to, from time to time, find themselves in technical disagreement on specific issues necessary for the completion of entitlements,” the letter states. “Rather than allowing such resolvable issues to linger, we ask that you ask your city manager to team with our District superintendent to provide expeditious resolution of such disagreements as they occur, preventing unneeded delays.”

On Monday, McClary indicated the City of Malibu would no longer be standing in the way of the project moving forward.

“We had asked for some further consideration and the School District was gracious enough to grant that. They have rescheduled the matter of considering the certification of the EIR for the high school to this Wednesday, January 26,” McClary said. “The City [of Malibu] will be submitting a letter noting that the School District has addressed the City’s concerns. And we will have City planning staff in attendance at that meeting.”

The special meeting it scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 26, and is available to watch on Zoom (meeting ID: 835 6427 2429; passcode: 122450; call-in number: 669-900-6833) or on the District’s YouTube channel.

emily@smdp.com