Santa Monica College (SMC) officials have signed off on a plan to renovate existing buildings and construct new facilities in addition to other campus improvements to better prepare students for jobs of the future.

The SMC District Board of Trustees voted unanimously Aug. 3 to approve the Career and Educational Facilities Master Plan update and certify the project’s final environmental impact report. The plan puts in place a vision for building renovation, new construction and building demolition on the 41.4-acre main campus, the 3.5-acre Academy of Entertainment and Technology campus, the 2.4-acre Olympic shuttle lot and the 4.5-acre Performing Arts Campus.

An update of the 1998 college master plan, the project will additionally incorporate existing facilities and planned improvements previously approved by the Board of Trustees at those campuses, as well as at the Bundy Campus, Airport Arts Campus and Emeritus College.

Among other features of the plan are the consolidation of digital media programs on the entertainment and technology campus, seismic repair and expansion of facilities at the Performing Arts Campus, parking and circulation improvements, landscaping, general site improvements and long-range planning for the Olympic shuttle site. Also proposed are a rebuilding of the Corsair Field stadium and replacement facilities for math and physical education.

College officials said the plan is designed to enhance the SMC property, buildings and equipment to provide the best possible educational environment and promote sustainability, while preparing students for careers of the 21st century. Some of those involved in the plan hailed its approval and noted how it will incorporate improvements identified in Measure AA, a bond measure approved by district voters in November 2008.

“I think it’s a very thoughtful plan. Actually, it was a plan endorsed by the community because the financing for the plan is largely acquired from Measure AA, which the community endorsed,” said Don Girard, senior director for SMC government relations.

“It’s carrying forward the work consistent with the community’s desire.”

In approving the master plan, the college board demonstrated leadership by working to address concerns raised by neighbors, SMC President Dr. Chui Tsang said.

“The college emerged as a thoughtful and caring institution while carrying out the demanding mission of educating large numbers of students in the greater community,” Tsang said. “The board’s effort advances the mission of the institution while discharging our duties as a responsible member of this community.”

Girard said he believes some of the key projects are the replacement of the math building, construction of a new science wing and the expansion of the digital media facility at the academy campus, which support fields that will “keep us competitive as a nation.”

Explaining the significance of the update, David Finkel, college board chair, said the campus facilities have to be upgraded to help prepare students for the professions of tomorrow and the college must go through changes.

“A university, and a college, has a primary purpose and that is to do the best we can to help students prepare for the future and provide service to the community,” Finkel said. “This is going to create the possibility for tomorrow’s youngsters to get a top-flight education to get jobs where they can be successful people, and we have to help them do that.”

The college board chair acknowledged how some may not want to see the campus footprint change, but the college must move into the future while being sensitive to the concerns of the surrounding community.

“Our job in approving the EIR was to fulfill the mission of bringing new growth and change and doing it in a way that is sensitive to the people around us and that’s what we tried to do,” Finkel said.

Santa Monica residents living near the college had expressed a variety of concerns with the master plan projects such as construction impacts with noise and air pollution effects on nearby residents and John Adams Middle School students, the destruction of mature trees, increased traffic in the area and impacts on local bus routes. The Friends of Sunset Park neighborhood group had recommended remodeling and retrofitting of campus buildings rather than demolition and replacement.

“Personally, it’s particularly aggravating to me to see SMC unnecessarily demolish buildings constructed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s while the K-12 Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District students continue to attend classes in buildings constructed by the WPA (Works Project Administration) in the 1930s and 40s,” said Zina Josephs of Friends of Sunset Park.

In a letter to The Argonaut, resident Joanne Curtis expressed similar feelings, saying the necessity for the college master plan needs to be re-evaluated due to the financial struggles of the school district, and that the improvements to accommodate an SMC population that is 85 percent or more non-resident are excessive.

“With so many financial constraints placed on the school districts, it would be a virtual slap in the community taxpayers’ faces for the college to begin cosmetic demolition and reconstruction to its campuses, when the local schools are being forced to lay off teachers and cut back on programs,” Curtis wrote.

Residents also pointed to how the EIR found that the plan would result in a “significant and unavoidable impact” to 36 intersections, and some living near Corsair Field spoke of construction impacts on the neighborhood.

But Girard responded that a report concluded that all impacts related to noise and air quality could be mitigated, and he claimed that the impacts related to traffic are largely due to the “very sensitive thresholds” the city has for traffic studies. He explained that the college adopted a transportation management demand program that parallels what the city adopted in the Land Use and Circulation Element process, and the college plans to implement programs that will help prevent traffic from increasing over time.

Regarding the Corsair Field concerns, the college’s plan is for a stadium that is smaller in scale and more appropriate for the neighborhood, he said.

Finkel believes college officials were able to accommodate many of the issues put forth by the community.

“I think we did a good faith job and that we came as close (to addressing concerns) as we were capable of doing,” Finkel said.

Girard said the first major work slated is at the Academy of Entertainment and Technology Campus, where officials hope to have a groundbreaking on the first phase by the end of the year.

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