Damage: Water has caused significant damage to some areas of Muir/SMASH and repairs are needed. Courtesy photo

After years of water intrusion issues at the John Muir Elementary / Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) campus  — “a little leak here, a little leak there,” according to SMMUSD Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton — came the deluge: a new damage report released on Tuesday afternoon shows the campus is in need of immediate repair due to years of unresolved water damage.

The extensive and severe water damage, combined with suspected insect damage and dry rot, could cause the displacement of some of the nearly 600 students enrolled at the 5th Street campus in Ocean Park as early as next school year as the District rushes to investigate and remediate issues recently discovered on campus.

A combination of “poor construction practices, age and exposure, deferred maintenance, and defective or inappropriate installation of materials, including during relatively recent repair or remediation work” was the most likely culprit, according to a 131-page findings report by DTR Consulting Services, Inc., commissioned by the SMMUSD.

SMMUSD shared the report, dated April 22, along with a letter from Superintendent Ben Drati stating there was no danger to students currently attending classes on the campus.

“We want to assure all parents and staff that we take the health and safety of students and staff at school seriously. We have remediated problem areas as they have been discovered and continue to engage a certified industrial hygienist to conduct air and surface testing for potential mold and other environmental concerns,” Drati wrote in his letter, dated May 17. “Testing for environmental hazards involves testing surfaces and air indoors to compare with readings for outdoors. While mold may be present within the walls, without a pathway to exposure, it is not a health hazard. Testing over spring break has provided reassurance that there is not a current health threat to students and staff occupying and using the campus. Our most recent test was conducted this past weekend.”

Upton said that, while there was a possibility that some buildings have suffered structural damage, most issues appeared to be focused on the “building envelope,” meaning the exterior areas such as stucco walls and door and window casements.

“What we anticipate is that this summer, using the current existing contractor, we’re going to be able to go in and do a far more destructive investigation,” Upton told the Daily Press shortly after the report was released on Tuesday. “You know, where we break into walls, and we really figure out what the problem is and where we attempt and figure out the solution.”

Upton said that following the investigation, an architect will need to draw up plans, a new contractor will be hired and, hopefully by late fall 2022, construction work could begin.

“This is going to take, I mean, we don’t know yet until we do more investigation, but it will take a minimum of a year and possibly up to two years to complete,” Upton said.

Upton was optimistic that no buildings would need to be razed due to water intrusion issues, and said he anticipated some students would be displaced due to the construction work, but many would remain on campus for the next two school years.

The construction follows years of minor fixes and repairs, including “significant roofing repairs” about five or six years ago, Upton recalled, and a full deck resurfacing a couple years later. As the SMMUSD modernization projects were underway last summer, including the installation of new HVAC, Upton said the extent of issues began to come to light. By the time the heavy rainstorms of December 2021 came around, it became clear there was a major problem at the Muir/SMASH campus. That was when the findings report was commissioned.

“We don’t know how much this is going to cost,” Upton said when asked about funding. “It’s not going to be cheap.” Some of the funds will likely come from deferred maintenance budget allocations and/or school bonds that have already passed, meaning it would take funding away from other projects earmarked for the $485 million Measure SMS Bond passed in 2018. But Upton remained hopeful that no buildings would need to be replaced due to the damage.

Drati, Upton and other SMMUSD leaders held meetings for school parents and staff on Monday and Tuesday, May 16 and 17, with another hearing set to take place before the school board on Thursday, May 19. 

That meeting, set to begin at 5:30 p.m., can be viewed on the SMMUSD YouTube channel or via Zoom (webinar ID:  814 9385 8023; passcode:  477106 ; call-in number: 669.900.6833).