Students at Will Rogers Learning Community will remain on campus during future ceiling repairs as officials plan to utilize vacated portable classrooms to temporarily house students whose classrooms may be inaccessible during the work.

The District issued a statement on the process this week after SMMUSD Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton told the Board of Education at their Feb 16 meeting that old tiles have been sporadically falling off the ceiling at the school in recent years and that it eventually will need to be fully replaced.

District spokesperson Gail Pinsker said the project is not expected to occur until 2025 or 2026 as it is not currently deemed a top priority. She said the district does not believe the situation poses a significant safety risk and said additional bond funding will be required to carry out the work.

While the project is expected to be done in part during the school year, Pinsker said it will be carried out in phases and there will be enough available space to be able to keep students on the Rogers campus due to the addition of a new building that will replace six portable classrooms, and the anticipated re-opening of the John Muir Elementary campus.

“The ceiling tile project will follow the early childhood building project, so the vacated portables may be used as temporary swing space,” she wrote in a statement. “Additional classroom space will also be available, with the expectation that some John Muir Elementary School students will return to their neighborhood school upon completion of their construction project, expected by fall of 2025.”

The Muir campus, which was shared with the Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH), was closed in May 2022 to undergo repairs needed due to extensive water intrusion issues. Approximately 150 of the school’s students were transferred to Will Rogers in the meantime.

According to Pinsker, the ceiling project will include removing furniture and materials from every room, removing all lighting, fire alarms, technology and other fixtures attached to the ceiling, abatement and demolition of the old ceiling tiles at an off campus location, installation of a structure to which the new tiles can be attached and finally, installation of the new tiles before everything is then put back in place.

The project will also include evaluation by the Division of the State Architect (DSA) to determine if a full seismic upgrade is required.

In the case of the Muir/SMASH campus, the DSA determined that the work required to address the damage could not be considered “maintenance” and that it was nearing a cost threshold that would trigger additional requirements, including a full structural upgrade. The district chose to pursue the upgrade to avoid having to go back and do it in the future if the threshold were to be met, contributing to a delay in the estimated completion date.

District officials stressed the ceiling project at Will Rogers is still in the very early phases and it will not be known if the work will need to include a seismic upgrade or other details until later in the process.

“Based on preliminary review, our design manager thinks that if we increase ceiling weight at all it will potentially trigger a full seismic upgrade,” Upton said in an email.

In addition to the known tile issue, recent rains caused a second, unrelated, set of tile problems.

“Recent heavy rains have caused some water issues on the campus that are not related to the failure of the old small square ceiling tiles,” said Pinsker in her statement. “The SMMUSD facilities team is working to remedy the water issues as they arise. There were a few newer, larger (2’ x 4’) ceiling tiles that did get waterlogged and fell during recent storms. The two ceiling tile issues are not related to each other.”

The larger tiles will be replaced as needed.

“The safety of our students and staff is our top priority,” Pinsker wrote, “The old ceiling tile failure may be an occasional distraction, but is not a significant safety hazard.”

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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...