The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) is moving.

Two years after the District’s decision to purchase an office building next to Santa Monica High School (near the corner of 4th St. and Olympic Blvd.), the day has finally come to make the transition to what officials say is a larger, more convenient location.

Interim Superintendent Mark Kelly said last week that he expects offices at the current 1651 16th St. space to be mostly vacated by Feb. 10 with a goal to get moved into the new office space around the week of Feb. 21.

“We’ll have some combination of working remotely and at other locations during that time and we appreciate everyone’s patience during that transition,” he said at the Feb. 2 Board of Education meeting.

The District announced its intention to move in October of 2020 and Board members voted to buy the office building from the Doubletree Hotel for $21 million, amid some public scrutiny.

While the decision had been discussed by the Board in closed session meetings for almost a year prior to the purchase, critics said the public was not given much of a chance to provide input before the vote.

While major Board decisions are required to be presented for public discussion, real estate negotiations are allowed to be conducted privately under the Brown Act.

At the time of the purchase, some members of the public questioned the appropriateness of buying an expensive property during the pandemic. However the Board said the move would make operations more efficient by combining all of its departments under one roof on the same block as its largest school and could become actively profitable down the line.

The new building has 31,000 square feet of space compared to 22,000 square feet in the existing office. Due to limited space at the current headquarters, the District rented out additional space for Educational Services in the back of the building and Child Development Services has worked in a separate building at 4th St. and Ashland Ave.

“It’s an opportunity and this is the last chance we’re going to get to do this,” former Boardmember Craig Foster said at the Oct. 15, 2020 meeting. “When somebody else buys this building it’s gone, and if we need to move headquarters, who knows where that’s going to be or when that’s going to be – it can’t possibly be as convenient as this, which is actually on land we own on the Samohi campus.”

The Board approved the purchase 6-1 with former Board member and current City Council member Oscar de la Torre being the only ‘no’ vote.

“It’s almost a $30 million project and it’s something that we don’t really need right now,” he said at the time. “No one has said we need this; it’s almost like a want and we’ve got to respect the taxpayers.”

In 2020, the District said the purchase would not impact the General Fund, and would be financed through redevelopment agency funding and by plans to lease the District’s current office space. Officials said they were confident that they would be able to broker a commercial lease for the 16th St. office, which could eventually serve as a source of revenue for the General Fund to support teachers, staff and operations.

An additional update on the purchase process and the transition is expected Thursday Feb. 7 and the next Board of Education meeting on Feb 16. will still be held at the 16th St building.

Avatar photo

Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...