Cramped:Teachers and administrators believe the current classroom sizes at Will Rogers are not large enough to facilitate modern learning methods. Photo by Emily Sawicki

SMMUSD has a bold vision for the future of Santa Monica’s schools. Flexible indoor/outdoor kindergarten classrooms, a two-story “multipurpose culinary cafe,” and an upgraded educational garden/farm — and that’s just at Will Rogers.

The District and stakeholder groups have spent the last half-decade envisioning what the future of education will look like in Santa Monica. Now, it is asking parents, students and community members to weigh in.

On Tuesday, SMMUSD hosted the second of five campus facilities planning meetings it scheduled between Feb. 28-March 10. At each meeting, the public is invited to tour school sites, meet educators, view historic elements of each campus and learn about plans for how campuses can be updated to meet the needs of 21st century students.

Any conversation about local school campuses seems to begin with the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. It was that disaster that destroyed most of the community’s schools and forced the first major philosophical overhaul in the way Santa Monicans think of education.

Gone were the fortress-like buildings that resemble schools back east. The “innovation and reform” period in Santa Monica beckoned low buildings full of light that integrated the outdoors.

And, partially because of that innovation, now many campuses contain potential historic landmarks. For instance, Will Rogers, built in 1948, was designed by noted school architect Henry Gogerty.

“He used the cluster plan of buildings as well as the international style to create a really child centered school campus,” architectural historian Alexandra Madsen described. “So you see, there’s a lot of indoor/outdoor space and access to that, as well as a plethora of windows and courtyards.”

The campus is also notable for its part in local history.

“It’s been found significant for its association with institutional growth in the postwar years in Santa Monica as well as stylistically, for its international style of architecture,” Madsen added.

Madsen said Will Rogers’ campus has remained “pretty much intact” since it was constructed, with the exception of some new pavement and windows (although those were placed in the same footprint as the original windows from the ’40s).

Madsen, who works for cultural resources management company Historic Resources Group, said her company had identified one potential historic district on campus, which is relevant not only for interested community members but also for CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, which oversees all development in the state. CEQA requires all such projects to consider what it calls “historic resources,” which in the case of Will Rogers includes the four long “finger buildings” that are original to the campus.

On Tuesday, around two dozen community members came to Will Rogers to learn about the potential future of the site and weigh in. Parents, writing on sticky notes posted to mock-ups of future plans, suggested things like areas for sewing or carpentry classes, areas for different age groups to play together and electric car charging stations.

The community enthusiasm is there, but there’s one glaring question that remains: How will these projects be funded? The $485 million Measure SMS bond measure that passed in 2018 has some change left over after updating Samohi and adding technology and air conditioning to elementary schools, but the bulk of these projects will need to come from a future school bond.

In other words, the projects are largely just a dream for now.

The remaining three facilities planning meetings are set for next week. Each meeting is scheduled to run from 4-6 p.m.:

– Franklin Elementary: Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Location: Franklin Cafetorium, 2400 Montana Ave, Santa Monica. Parking off of Idaho Ave., street parking available

– McKinley Elementary: Wednesday, March 9, 2022. Location: McKinley Auditorium, 2401 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica. Parking in main lot off of Chelsea Ave., street parking available.

– Grant Elementary: Thursday, March 10, 2022 Location: Grant Auditorium, 2368 Pearl St, Santa Monica. Parking on 24th St., street parking is available

emily@smdp.com