Santa Monica College has advanced plans to build a new 540-seat music and performing arts hall and complex on the Madison Campus with the awarding of a $31 million construction bid to Irvine-based FTR International Incorporated.

Madison Campus is on 4.4 acres at 1310 11th St., Santa Monica.

The college board of trustees awarded the bid at a public meeting Monday, November 15th.

Tom Donner, college executive vice president of business and administration, said FTR does not have any experience building performing arts halls.

Donner said only $100,000 separated the company bid of $30,780,000 and the college’s lowest estimate of what the project should cost.

FTR has also obtained insurance performance bonds.

“If they walk away from the project, insurance will pay for the cost of a replacement builder in full,” Donner said.

College president and superintendent Piedad Robertson said FTR has “experience building for kindergarten-through-12th-grade education institutions and they did all the work for Channel Islands University.”

The construction project will include:

– a new 540-seat performing arts hall for music, dance and theater;

– renovation of an existing 40,000-square-foot facility used by the music department;

– conversion of an existing 240-seat auditorium into a rehearsal hall; and

– parking improvements for 301 cars.

Madison Campus is also home to the 3,000-square-foot Pete and Susan Barrett Art Gallery, which opened four years ago.

Bruce Smith, college public information officer, said the new complex has a wide range of support from community residents and arts and cultural organizations.

Several representatives from the college performing arts departments spoke in favor of the complex last week. They said they have waited with eagerness for several years.

Actor Dustin Hoffman’s theater troupe 3 Coasts will set up residence at the complex when construction is completed in 2007, Smith said.

Construction is expected to start early next year.

OVERSIGHT — The Santa Monica-based firm Renzo Zecchetto Architects designed the complex and will provide additional advice for FTR.

“I’m having a real problem with the fact that the builder [FTR] doesn’t have experience with this,” said trustee Annette Shamey. “Architects don’t come cheap, but we need them desperately.”

To help FTR and construction for the project run smoothly, college officials discussed the possibility of using Zecchetto services more often, installing a citizen oversight committee that could provide more oversight and hiring a construction attorney who could oversee the whole project and people.

Robertson said hiring an attorney could ease the burden on the college’s small facilities staff.

“Facilities are becoming a huge opportunity, but also a burden. The complexities are immense because we are building on existing construction,” Robertson said.

“We have yet to do a building on this campus where a construction company doesn’t tear into our telephone lines, sewer lines and water lines,” she said.

FUNDING — Building the complex, which was conceived in 1998 when a feasibility study was done by Mitze Productions, has been made a reality after passage of a $135 million bond Measure S by voters this month.

Measure S allocates $24 million for the complex.

Other sources of funding include $3 million from Measure U, approved by voters in 2002, a $1 million parking grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and private donations obtained by the SMC Foundation.

College officials have already spent money for an environmental impact report and traffic study.

Donner said the City of Santa Monica required the college to conduct a “big study.” He said the college “looked at every intersection in Santa Monica.”

In terms of operating costs and revenue from the complex, college director of marketing Don Girard said preliminary analysis estimates $3 million in annual revenue, which would be greater than operating costs.

Girard also said the SMC Foundation could continue fundraising and that “naming rights” at the complex could be sold for at least $8 million.

Several trustees said the cost of building the complex could increase significantly, depending on how much money might be spent on extra architect and attorney services.

Robertson said that even though $24 million in Measure S bonds is allocated for the complex, college officials have leeway to delay other Measure S projects and move money towards completing the complex.

“However, the last resort is delaying other projects,” she said. She said college officials would actively seek grant funding and private donations.

Trustee Graham Pope and student trustee Dina Cervantes abstained from the bid award vote because they were concerned about cost overruns and lack of information about the full scope of the project.

“Nobody is saying they don’t support a new complex,” said trustees chair Margaret Qui”ones. “The architects are the safeguards.

“They will make sure we stay within the parameters of values and judgment.

“They are going to watch where we are at, work with integrity and work within the mission of our project, which is supposed to be entertainment.”

College trustees said discussions about building the complex and how to provide oversight are far from over.