Civic: The Civic Auditorium with Samohi visible in the background. Grace Adams

The Santa Monica Malibu Unified District (SMMUSD) plans to conduct a feasibility study in coming months to help determine whether to purchase the Civic Auditorium to be used as a competition gym for Santa Monica High School (Samohi). 

The Board of Education approved the study at their March 2 meeting and authorized contractors to carry out work to determine if the building – which has been vacant since 2013 and deemed seismically unsafe – can be brought into compliance with safety codes, if the purchase makes sense financially and iron out other details.

The Civic Auditorium, located at 1855 Main Street, just across from the Samohi campus, was designated as “surplus” land by the City last year. This categorization is given to municipal property for which a city has been unable to find a suitable use and grants priority to purchase and redevelop the site to affordable housing projects, parks/recreation and schools.

SMMUSD staff said that purchasing and converting the Civic Auditorium into a competition gym would shave years off of the ongoing Samohi Campus Plan, a multi-phase, multi-million dollar project to modernize the campus. Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton said it would eliminate the need to construct a new gym building and relocate other facilities. 

“What this means is that essentially we would be able to omit phases seven, eight and nine which means we could be completed with the campus plan by 2031, 2032 as opposed to 2047 which was the original plan…” Upton said. “It saves at least ten good years and that means we have students in better facilities ten years earlier.” 

Board member Jon Kean called it a “no brainer” if the project is deemed feasible, however, he emphasized the ‘if.’

“There are a lot of ‘ifs’ so that’s why we have the feasibility [study], so they come back to us and let us know how many ‘ifs’ still exist. And we have to pass the feasibility contracts to determine that” he said. “If we get past the ‘ifs,’ there is not a single reason from terms of student outcomes and being stewards of the resources we’ve been given – this is a no-brainer.” 

Board member Laurie Lieberman echoed his sentiment, noting that the purchase would allow for more space for Samohi’s approximately 2,800 students.

“Samohi is not in any way, shape, or form, as big as it should be for the number of students that it has, even with declining enrollment,” she said. “If you see an opportunity like this, which rarely, if ever, will present itself, to expand the Samohi campus, especially while we’re in the midst of redoing and modernizing the campus, it’s a no-brainer that we would have to explore it,” she said. “Whether it will work or not, I don’t know. In what way it will work, I don’t know… a lot of things have to fall into place, but we don’t have the capacity, unless we do a feasibility study with these various components, to make an intelligent assessment.” 

The total cost to the district of hiring contractors to conduct the feasibility study is estimated not to exceed a total of $362,090. Lieberman stressed that this does not take away from money for other projects including construction work planned for several elementary schools in the district.

The Board voted 6-1 to approve three feasibility study work contracts, with Maria Leon-Vasquez casting the only ‘no’ vote. She said she did not feel there had been adequate public input up to this point.

“I think part of it is that we should have really brought back some of this information to the community at large,” she said.

Other Board members and Upton said that it did not make sense to gather community feedback until it could be confirmed that the project is even a realistic possibility and emphasized that there will be plenty of opportunities for community members to have their voices heard on whether to move forward if it is found to be feasible. 

Upton said results of the feasibility study will be available in July or August of this year.

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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...