The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has begun the process of selecting a consultant to develop a facilities master plan.

Eight consulting firms submitted proposals to the school district Ad Hoc Facilities Committee before the deadline Tuesday, September 13th.

Committee members and the school district Business and Fiscal Services Office hope to narrow the list of firms down to three or less before sending proposals to the board of education.

Board members will have final approval on which consultant to hire and will base their decision on committee and staff recommendations.

Developing a facilities master plan is one of the first steps to bringing a future bond measure to voters in Santa Monica and Malibu.

“We don’t know whether or not it will be the wish of the board and the voters of Santa Monica and Malibu to support a bond measure in the future,” said Winston Braham, school district chief financial officer. “Nevertheless, we have taken the first steps as a very forward-thinking district to plan for the next 20 to 30 years.”

The cost of hiring a consultant to develop the facilities master plan could range from $400,000 to $2 million, depending on which consultant board members choose to hire and how many services district officials want the consultant to provide.

Braham said funds would not come from the school district general fund but from the remaining balance of Proposition X, the district’s $42 million bond measure approved by voters in 1998.

He said the school district, with advice from legal counsel, is allowed to spend portions of the $3.9 million balance to develop the facilities master plan.

District officials said some of the $3.9 million in remaining funds have already been earmarked for projects that are allowed but not specifically listed in Proposition X.

California state law restricts school districts from spending bond funds on projects not listed in a bond measure.

School district superintendent John Deasy believes that a qualified consultant could develop a facilities master plan for about $1 million.

“I would be uncomfortable as we drift north of $1 million, given the size of our district, the number of buildings we have, the scope of the work we are taking a look at, and the market as it is,” Deasy said. “The smallest area of this plan is not going to come close to a lower cost, so we want to get the best use of the limited dollars we have.”

The school district, in its request for master plan proposals, identified long-term facility needs such as parking, smaller learning communities, public use of and access to school buildings, day care, recreation, and a technology infrastructure for information management systems.

“Despite the substantial upgrades from previous bond measures, there remain areas in which district facilities could be improved to better meet the goals of the board, community, and senior leadership,” Deasy said.

“The district’s strategic vision suggests a facilities bond measure for a yet-to-be-determined amount in the very near future,” he said.

Consultants that submitted master plan proposals include:

Fields Devereaux Architects and Engineers; Gensler, Leidenfrost/Horowitz and Associates (LHA); MDA Johnson Favaro; Perkins and Will; Total School Solutions; Vanir Construction Management Incorporated; and Widom Wein Cohen O’Leary Terasawa (WWCOT).

Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP has been assisting the school district’s Ad Hoc Facilities Committee with background investigations on the consultants.

Craig Hamilton, co-chair of the committee, said that consultants submitted cost of service estimates along with their proposals.

Hamilton said the $400,000 to $2 million cost range is the result of each consultant interpreting the task of developing a facilities master plan for the school district differently.

“While there is a low number there, they clearly did not understand the magnitude of participation and community issues in a district that has two communities geographically separated,” Hamilton said. “At the other end, they probably overestimated what needed to happen.”

The school district received a recommendation from the committee to hire one person to work as a full-time liaison between the consultant, district officials, and stakeholders throughout the master plan process.

Community members said the liaison should also stay in the position throughout the bond measure process if the school district decides to create a new bond measure.

Joseph Zeronian, a financial advisor from Deloitte, said a new bond measure would be handled well by the school district.

“As an issuer of debt, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is one of the premier issuers,” Zeronian said. “The district has a good name on the street, and that is worth something to the community and to taxpayers.”