HomeBlocksFront-TopSan Marino Unified School District Inches Closer to Realizing Facilities Priorities

San Marino Unified School District Inches Closer to Realizing Facilities Priorities

From the outside looking in, the San Marino Unified School District’s four school sites may appear to reflect the impressive “boutique” image SMUSD champions; however, when looking up close, the district’s facilities do not quite match up to its sparkling reputation.

To bring SMUSD’s aging facilities on par with its academic stature, the Board of Education tasked the Facilities Advisory Committee to prioritize two-thirds of the $200 million potential bond target for upgrades and repairs, with the remaining third set aside for inflation and cost escalation that may occur over the years during building.

Within that target figure, and cost estimates provided by LPA Design Studios in mind, the FAC identified areas in the facilities master plan that they deemed most critical.

Morris said data, community input from past town halls, as well as feedback from school principals played a role in informing the group’s selection.

The first tier of initial priorities included repairing/modernizing existing classrooms and restrooms; safety and security; utilities; technology; multipurpose room and student dining; exterior play and playfields; new classrooms; outdoor learning and quad; and high school elective spaces. The second tier items were cited as STEM, art and music classroom upgrades, as well as middle school and high school electives, CTE career tech and theater upgrades; and PE and athletics facilities.

At a recent Board of Education meeting, FAC Chairman Jeff Morris shared the committee’s progress.

Morris said the FAC and LPA have been working hand in hand, with the FAC being intimately involved every step of the way behind the scenes.

“As we went through this process, several goals emerged from our committee,” Morris said. “We wanted to make sure the master plan addresses the immediate needs for repairs, safety, security, indoor air quality, reliability of mechanical systems and solutions to mitigate flooding.”

He added that the master plan being tightly aligned with the district’s focus on the four As — activities, athletics, academics and arts — was a driving factor. Another goal the FAC intended to achieve was ensuring the plan considered long-term enrollment cycles.

“There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about declining enrollment numbers and we might have hit an inflection point with our numbers increasing this year and that might be a short-term trend, but these things have cycles over the years,” said Morris, who noted that SMUSD has had cycles of declining and increasing enrollment in prior years, so the FAC has to plan with the idea that enrollment may fluctuate in the future.

Morris said maintenance costs were also factored in the long-range planning to help them project what the future needs will be and to know when replacements will be necessary as things reach the end of their life cycles.

“All of our meetings have featured very lively discussions and a lot of probing questions, because we are really trying to get to the why behind what these recommendations are going to be because that’s what ultimately should guide them,” Morris said.

Superintendent Linda de la Torre, in an effort to garner support and awareness for SMUSD’s facilities planning, gave her own presentation to the San Marino City Club on Zoom, where she shared the district is in the process of deciding whether or not to recommend moving forward with a bond measure that would go on the Nov. 5 ballot.

“Once the board makes that decision … we would have a community campaign committee that would begin campaigning for the bond and pushing that out to the community, working with many influential members of the community to gauge support,” de la Torre said.

“Having been here 35 years and having walked these campuses, they look very nice from Huntington Drive, but I encourage all of you to come, walk our campuses and see the underbelly of our classrooms and facilities,” de la Torre said. “In some instances, I would use the word ‘deplorable.’ It’s not San Marino at all, and our kids deserve better.”

Water damage from rain and major flooding has proven to be costly for the district. At Huntington Middle School, de la Torre said an electrical panel was rendered useless from flood damage.

“The damage was in excess of half a million dollars, which we did not have funds in our budget for and we could not have predicted that or prevented that,” she said.

“Infrastructure is crumbling in some areas, and we have a lot of leaks. … Surprisingly, Carver’s library, which is one of the newer facilities in the school district, [has] pretty severe leaks in that building we need to take care of.”

San Marino High School is another campus that required untimely swift action after unforeseen events. Since water was not accessible that day, students were relocated to a neighboring campus so that learning could continue.

“We had a pipe that tree roots grew into that caused us to shut water off at San Marino High School so we could repair that,” said de la Torre, who added that the district has yet to finish that project. However, she said the water is back on and classes have resumed on campus.

One option de la Torre said the district might consider is a no-tax-increase bond, which means SMUSD would not be asking homeowners for any more than what they are already paying.

“We’ll see whether or not it comes into fruition,” de la Torre said of the no-tax-increase bond measure. “If the board decides to move in that direction, there are a lot of factors in play, but this is the conversation we will continue to have with our community.”

The FAC aims to bring its recommendations before the Board of Education on Tuesday, April 23.

First published in the April 11 issue of the San Marino Tribune


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