School Facilities Needs May Push Bond Approval

With a facilities needs assessment to bolster the case, a bond proposition was scheduled to go before the San Marino Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday, which if approved would call an election for June 5 for residents to make the ultimate decision.
A second reading of the item could be as early as Feb. 13, unless the board makes substantial changes after its first reading. The proposed bond amount stood at $148 million as of press time this week and Superintendent Alex Cherniss was confident the need for the funding had been soundly presented at Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s pretty much across the board. Every school site would see upgrades, new safety and security measures and modernization,” Cherniss said in an interview last week. “Our district is aging. We have some older facilities and buildings. It’s upgrading air conditioning, heating, electrical, plumbing. It’s getting rid of and replacing portable classrooms with permanent structures. It’s really improving the learning environment and also the safety and security.”
A presentation to the Board last week by Pasadena-based firm gkkworks included a site overview of each of SMUSD’s four schools and a number of proposed projects and their cost estimates. Cherniss said those projects reflect years of deferred maintenance and also new projects, and that the $148 million proposition represents a middle ground for what he estimated to be $250 million in total potential work.
“With $250 million ultimately in repairs and upgrades, we obviously can’t get everything done, so we’d like to maximize what we can get done,” he said.
San Marino High School has the lion’s share of proposed project cost estimates, coming in at $108.8 million in proposals. Those include replacing air conditioning in the school gyms; constructing a new fitness center where the current pool is; constructing a new pool alongside new restroom facilities and replaced basketball courts; a permanent west wing building to replace the temporary one; a performing arts theater to replace Neher Auditorium, Webb Theater, the 600 classroom wing and art classroom; and an expanded tennis court.
Proposed projects at Carver Elementary School included replacing the playground asphalt, constructing a permanent modular classroom building to replace the temporary one, replacing the outdoor lunch shelter with a larger one and installing a new sport court with a shade structure. These come out to an estimated $7.67 million.
Proposed air conditioning upgrades, a reconfigured campus drop-off that adds a shade structure, a new two-story classroom and multipurpose building, two new 5th-grade classrooms, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) center and a new library at Valentine Elementary School would amount to $31.1 million. Portions of this assessment have two options to achieve the projects.
Huntington Middle School’s $18.6 million in proposals included air conditioning upgrades, securing the internal campus access pathway and replacing temporary classroom building with a permanent one. It should be noted that the Barth Athletics Complex, which broke ground last June, is around $12 million of that estimate and is largely accounted for from a funding perspective.
Each site also includes the replacement of their emergency backup power generators among their proposals.
To fund the bonds, properties would be assessed an additional $60 per $100,000 of assessed value annually for up to the next 30 years. Cherniss said he expected 12-15 years for each of these proposed projects to be completed. The presentation last week noted that many of these proposals are unrealized projects that are listed in the district’s Facilities Master Plan that was developed in 1996.
Asked about potential criticism that some of these proposals are more about aesthetics, Cherniss defended them as nevertheless contributing to a healthier learning environment. He said the facilities needs assessment was prepared after several years’ worth of meeting with district administration and faculty.
“We’re not just asking for the community to help our schools look better,” he said. “We’re telling the community that our schools aren’t functioning the way they should. It’s not aesthetics. It’s the lighting, the electricity, the plumbing. It’s like living in a very old house that has had no repairs or upgrades. It’s hard to learn. We’re doing a great job with what we have, but it’s not adequate for what’s expected from the community and my expectations. It’s not up to par.”
Board President Shelley Ryan said the board and Cherniss have both met with various interest groups regarding the proposal and will continue to do so.
“If there’s a need or there are questions, then we will hold a meeting to address it,” she said.
Moving forward, Ryan said she hoped to iron out any of her own questions or those from her peers as they work to prepare the most financially sensible plan.
“I’d like to maybe have a look at the pricing of some of these items some more,” she added. “We can’t predict interest rate. We can’t predict anything beyond what we can control with what we know about housing values, the community and their expectations.”

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