SMMUSD has big plans for the remaining $100 million facilities improvement budget, but costs have skyrocketed thanks to a 16-month delay.

Grant Elementary could get a fully renovated library. Will Rogers could get a new two-story classroom building. Franklin could get a state-of-the-art “makerspace” for creative learning. The list of Santa Monica schools’ campus improvements is long, but the money set aside for various projects isn’t going as far as it used to.

In October 2020, the SMMUSD Facility District Advisory Committee gave these project recommendations and more to the School Board, in line with the District’s overall vision for 21st century education. With about $98 million left over from 2018’s Measure SMS school bond, the District has been working to put the money to work improving education at various school sites across the City.

But delays caused by COVID-19, coupled with wrangling over historic resources, has resulted in a 16-month delay in the projects, which in turn has seen estimated costs rise by 16 percent, according to District COO Carey Upton.

The latest estimates indicate at least one project that has been delayed could be deferred — pending School Board approval — until additional funding is secured: new preschool, transitional kindergarten (TK) and kindergarten classrooms and play areas at Roosevelt Elementary School.

“We are on schedule to begin construction at five sites Spring of 2023,” Upon wrote in an email to the Daily Press — Grant, Will Rogers, Franklin, McKinley and John Adams Middle School (JAMS). “The Roosevelt project will be delayed and might be deferred until additional funding is obtained. This has not been decided by the Board. There might be other funds available to include a Roosevelt project, but we have to determine the campus plan and first project.”

Upton mentioned the delays while discussing proposed projects during a recent facilities planning meeting/open house at Grant Elementary School on Thursday, March 10, in response to a question by a community member about timing of the upcoming projects.

“The original plan was to sort of do some [projects] starting one summer and some starting the other. We are hoping to get some of them starting this year and then [the] others, but COVID and our historic resources and other [factors] sort of delayed us,” Upton said. “So, the plan right now is we’re probably going to try to set a goal to commence in the summer of 2023.” Upton added that the final decision on timing would be up to the School Board.

In February 2021, following community concern over demolition of the History Building at Samohi, the School Board ratified the District’s first historical resources policy.

Historic resources specialists said it’s not only community concern, but California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regulations, that prompted the District to look closer at potential historic districts on campuses.

“There is a community concern — I think there’s an advocacy in the community for historic resources — but we’re specifically tasked to deal with environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act for historical resources,” Paul Travis of Historic Resources Group said during a March 1 open house at Will Rogers Elementary. CEQA requires historical resources to be reviewed for any building projects.

The Measure SMS bond earned 72 percent of votes in Santa Monica, vastly overcoming the 55 percent of votes needed to pass. In total, Measure SMS added $485 million to the District’s budget, earmarked to school facilities improvements.

Most of Measure SMS funds — nearly $400 million — have already been allocated toward unglamorous but necessary projects: updating furniture, adding safety and security measures like security cameras and upgraded fire alarms, and upgrading HVAC to add air conditioning to some schools. A portion of SMS funds also went toward constructing the new performing arts center at JAMS, as well as a portion of the funds needed for the Samohi Discovery Building and football field turf replacement.

Upcoming plans include a renovated library, courtyard and pre-K/kindergarten at Grant Elementary; a new classroom building, field and playground at Will Rogers Elementary; a new makerspace, and renovated playfield and yard at Franklin Elementary; a new classroom/school support building at McKinley Elementary; and a renovated library with a new outdoor deck at JAMS.

Upton said the School Board was set to meet on Tuesday, March 22, for a special meeting focusing on facilities issues, including updates on current Samohi projects.

There are two additional future facility community meetings scheduled: one at Lincoln Middle School on Monday, April 25, and one at Roosevelt on Tuesday, April 26, each from 4-6 p.m.

There will also be discussion to move forward with campus plans at an upcoming regular School Board meeting in May of this year.

emily@smdp.com