January 27, 2023 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Prepares for SMASH/Muir Campus Mold Removal

Exact costs for repairs still unknown

By Dolores Quintana and Sam Catanzaro 

It is unknown exactly how much the total cost will be to deal with the water damage and mold issues at the John Muir Elementary and Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) campus, but as of last week, the school district has paid out about $180,000 in costs for testing and investigations of the buildings and outside areas. 

On June 23 during a special meeting of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education, the board approved a number of items to begin the “destructive investigation” of the campus and its buildings, located at 2525 5th Street. The buildings have been heavily damaged by the passing decades of water encroachment, dry rot, insect incursion and mold. 

Of that $180,000, the highest cost is $42,496 for a contract with a company that would “include the cost of architectural services as well as the addition of a construction cost estimator to the team,” as stated on the meeting’s agenda. 

The staff’s report states, “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 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 the invasive investigation.”

Little Architects is the company that will be granted that contract and the funds, will be allocated out of Measure SMS funds. Measure SMS is a $485 million bond measure meant to improve school facilities that has a huge budget. The company already has been granted two contracts in May for roughly $92,015 on this project which were part of the first stage of the investigation of the campus and involved in “evaluating what is found and determining what the next steps will be” With this potential approval of a third contract, Little Architects contract payout total would rise to $135,511.

The Muir/SMASH campus investigation started in May the findings report was issued by SMMUSD on the damages to the 26-year-old campus for students from pre-school through eighth grade. 

The DTR Consulting Services, Inc. report detailed “poor construction practices, age and exposure, deferred maintenance, and defective or inappropriate installation of materials, including during relatively recent repair or remediation work” calling the work the most likely culprit in the 131 pages of the report that was commissioned by the SMMUSD. 

There are also three other contracts under consideration by the school board that would total up to $33,500 for movers who would remove items such as “furniture and contents” and “audio visual,” equipment and “technology”  from certain classrooms in the buildings that have noticeably larger mold levels. The affected rooms are 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.

Additionally, the school board has already approved $11,249 on May 19 on a contract with Alta Environmental that covers “environmental sampling, testing and reporting.” 

SMMUSD Chief Operating Officer Carey Upton said, as quoted by the Santa Monica Daily Press, “We don’t know how much this is going to cost. It’s not going to be cheap,” when asked in May. 

The estimate is that the campus might be closed for one or two years while the investigation, remediation and potential rebuilding process is being handled. 

The School District has chosen to relocate the entire student population of the campus before next fall: SMASH students will move to the current Olympic High School campus, also known as the Michelle and Barack Obama Center for Inquiry and Exploration. Muir students will be sent to different replacement campuses with most heading to Will Rogers Elementary School, while others could go to campuses that include Franklin, Grant, Roosevelt or McKinley elementary schools in the city of Santa Monica. The students could also have the option of commuting to Malibu to attend Webster or Malibu elementary schools.

During the June 23 meeting, Kat Blandino, a speaker during the public comment period,  criticized SMMUSD’s plan for replating Muir Students. 

“The John Muir community has been treated completely inequitable,” Blandino said. “The difference between what SMASH and John Muir families were given in the questionnaire and the bait and switch that happened from the meeting into your surveys and the options these families have is kind of horrendous. And it is certainly horrendous when you have known about the issue at that campus for years and suddenly there’s an urgency that you had to rush these things through and then distribute and divide the John Muir community into other schools who are already overpopulated and who’s class sizes are already too large.”

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