At community presentations January 3rd and 9th, Santa Monica College (SMC) revealed its proposed Student Services Replacement, Bookstore Modernization and Pico Improvements Project that will change the face of the college as the community knows it.

Construction on the project should start later this year — if approved by the college’s Board of Trustees — and be complete in 2012, said SMC spokesman Bruce Smith.

This project implements the final phase of the college’s Facilities Master Plan, adopted in 1998 with community-wide input. It is not expected to generate any increases in students, faculty or administrative personnel.

The project is designed to consolidate numerous student services currently spread throughout the main campus, beautify the Pico Boulevard frontage, and provide a connection between the Santa Monica community and the college, SMC officials say.

“This is a very exciting project for us,” says college president Dr. Chui L. Tsang. “It will change the face of SMC. For the longest time, the college was built with its back to the community. It’s an inward-facing college. That’s not very good-looking. And we never had a formal entryway to the college. It’s not good for pedestrian traffic; it’s not good for traffic.

“With this one project, we can correct so many of these little headaches that we’ve had for so many years, and we’ll be able to create a state-of-the-art Student Center to provide the level of service we want to have for our students.”

Consolidating all major student services — for example, counseling, financial aid and a career center — into one location will improve the outreach and access of all services available to students while providing an efficiency of common shared spaces, college officials believe.

“It will create a better environment for students,” Tsang says, noting that the student center will be the “first stop” students will come to when they arrive on campus.

The new student center — which would serve as a gateway to the college and a popular campus destination — would face Pico Boulevard and have a new plaza in front that would integrate the campus with the community, Tsang says.

The Student Services Replacement Building would also replace facilities that no longer provide the amenities required for today’s activities, officials say.

Most current facilities are not connected to a centrally monitored fire alarm system and lack fire sprinklers. And most have interior hallways and doorways that don’t meet the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, officials say.

But that would be changed.

In addition to the new student services center at the northeast corner of campus and the entry plaza between the student services center and Drescher Hall, the project includes a below-grade parking structure, the relocation of the campus bookstore to Drescher Hall, Pico promenade improvements and landscaping, and a proposed public transit bus pull-out, officials say.

The project requires the demolition of several buildings on the main campus, resulting in a net decrease of 5,119 assignable square feet of building area and 178 classroom seats.

Underlying the student services center would be a new three-level subterranean parking structure for about 500 cars. It would replace campus surface parking along Pico Boulevard and restore campus parking to pre-earthquake levels, campus officials say.

Along the northern edge of the main campus, along Pico Boulevard from 16th Street east to the campus boundary, there would also be extensive campus landscaping.

Additionally, a separate project has been identified — with the input of Big Blue Bus — proposing to consolidate two bus stops along Pico Boulevard to just one. This would help reduce traffic congestion along Pico Boulevard.

The college intends to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for the project.

Construction costs would be about $98 million total — $80 million for the Student Services Building and underground parking structure and $18 million for the bookstore renovation and landscaping improvements, said Don Girard, senior director of government relations and institutional communications.

Funding has already been allocated by the state, through locally approved bond measures and from some district capital funds, Girard said.

“It’s a big project,” says Smith.

The college has prepared an environmental document that is available for public review and comment. Written comments are due no later than Wednesday, January 16th.

Comments will be incorporated into the document and later brought before the Board of Trustees for a decision on the project.

“We’re hoping to move this to the board in our February [Board of] Trustees meeting,” Tsang says. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long, long time.”