Construction is scheduled to begin this summer on several facility improvement projects in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) during the window of opportunity while students are away on break.
The Board of Education approved the campus plans for two of these projects, Will Rogers Elementary and John Adams Middle School (JAMS), at their meeting last week.
The plans include renovating the library, a new building and landscape upgrades at JAMS, and the construction of three new buildings, a new playfield and track, and reconfiguration of the parking lots at Will Rogers.
The proximity of the two campuses — which are located across the street from each other — has drawn pushback from several community members concerned about noise and other negative impacts from construction taking place at both sites at the same time.
Representatives of the Friends of Sunset Park neighborhood organization (the area where both schools are located) submitted comments arguing that the two projects — plus proposed work at Franklin Elementary in Wilmont — should have been treated as one under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This would have imposed additional limitations on the work and made it more difficult for them to be approved and carried out concurrently.
Julian Capata, an environmental programs manager and consultant for the District, said that despite their adjacent locations, the projects are not related and therefore their impacts are not required to be evaluated together.
“From a CEQA perspective these would be considered separate projects because they’re independent of each other,” he said. “You can approve JAMS and not approve Rogers and it wouldn’t affect the other one… so studying them independently was the appropriate method and choice to go by.”
However, Board Members Stacy Rouse and Laurie Lieberman acknowledged the potential adverse effects of the cumulative work on residents of the area and Rouse questioned what was being done to reduce them.
“I don’t share the concern that John Adams and Will Rogers and Franklin — which isn’t even near those two campuses — should be part of the same environmental work, though I do think that Stacy’s question is a legitimate one,” Lieberman said. “It doesn’t have to be addressed by having them be combined in the same document, but each of them has to at least consider those things.”
SMMUSD Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton said that the nature of the projects, which will both be carried out in phases, was designed to mitigate negative impact by intentionally scheduling the heaviest work to occur at different times for each site.
“Most of the pieces sort of work out so that we’re not doing major construction on both campuses at the same time,” Upton said.
By approving the campus plans, the board has given the green light for the entirety of both projects, however the District currently only has funding for the first phase of each. For JAMS this includes the library renovation, and for Rogers it covers the construction of one new classroom building, the new field and track and new parking layout.
Work at Mckinley Elementary School is also on track to begin this summer, however projects at Grant and Franklin Elementary Schools have been put on hold. Upton said this is due in part to the need to redirect resources for extensive repair work at the John Muir and Santa Monica Alternative School House campus.
For more information about SMMUSD facility improvement projects visit: https://www.smmusd.org/fip