The total tab for work to remediate, and possibly rebuild, the Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) / John Muir Elementary campus is still largely unknown for the local school district, but checks being written this week bring the total spent so far up to about $180,000, for testing and investigations alone.

During a Thursday, June 23, special meeting of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education, the school board is set to approve several items to kick off the “destructive investigation” of buildings on the Ocean Park campus that suffered serious damage from decades of water intrusion, mold, dry rot and insects. 

The largest portion, a contract for $42,496, is set aside to “include the cost of architectural services as well as the addition of a construction cost estimator to the team,” according to the agenda for Thursday’s meeting.

“The addition of a cost estimator will assist with proper budgeting and will allow the District to compare the construction cost of the work as it evolves against the replacement value of each building,” the meeting staff report continued. “The additional architectural services proposed include preparation of exhibits outlining the known locations of past water intrusion related problems and illustrating the work proposed to be completed during this phase of invasive investigation.”

The funds, which are to be awarded to a company called Little Architects, will come out of Measure SMS, the massive $485 million bond measure that passed in 2018 and is dedicated to improving school facilities.

Little Architects has already been awarded two contracts totaling $92,015 toward the project for initial guidance over the investigation, including aiding in “evaluating what is found and determining what the next steps will be,” awarded in May. If the newest addition is approved, Little Architects’ total contract amount would rise to $135,511.

The investigation into issues at the Muir/SMASH campus kicked off last month after the SMMUSD released a findings report detailing damage on the 26-year-old campus that houses classrooms for students from preschool through eighth grade.

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.

In addition to the work Little Architects are contracted to perform, the school board will consider three additional contracts worth a total of $33,500 for movers to empty specific classrooms on the campus with elevated mold levels. These include the removal of “furniture and contents,” “audio visual” equipment and “technology” from affected rooms: 400, 415 and 480 at SMASH (all classrooms); 101 (technical room) and 513 (janitorial room) at Muir; and 210B (media room), 600 (kindergarten room), and 602 (teacher prep room) at Muir.

In addition to these expenses, the school board has already allocated $11,249 during its May 19 meeting to Alta Environmental for “environmental sampling, testing and reporting.” 

All costs combined so far reach about $180,000. But the total cost once all is said and done could be an order of magnitude larger.

“We don’t know how much this is going to cost,” SMMUSD Chief Operating Officer Carey Upton said when asked about funding after the initial report was released in May. “It’s not going to be cheap.”

In the interim, the District is also working to redistribute all students from the campus by next fall, with SMASH students moving to the current Olympic High School campus, also known as the Michelle and Barack Obama Center for Inquiry and Exploration. Muir students will be dispersed, with most heading to Will Rogers Elementary School and others heading to other optional campuses including Roosevelt, McKinley, Grant or Franklin elementaries in Santa Monica, with the option of commuting out to Malibu to attend Webster or Malibu elementary schools.

Initially, district sources estimated the campus could be closed for one to two years during the investigation, remediation and possible rebuilding process.