Bookstore Expansion, 500 New Parking Spaces

Santa Monica College is getting a facelift and students are invited to witness the transformation. Most students aren't aware that the noisy construction zone to the east of Drescher Hall is becoming a state-of-the-art Student Services building that will deliver the campus's most sought-after commodity, 500 new underground parking spaces. Above the parking lot will be the Admissions and Financial Aid offices, as well as academic and transfer counseling services.

Students are encouraged to attend meetings like the one held last Wednesday night, Sept. 30. The community meeting described SMC's 2009 Master Plan, a modernization and beautification project that will take place over the next eight to 10 years. Four SMC sites will be altered: the SMC Main Campus, the Academy of Entertainment and Technology, the Olympic Shuttle Lot and the Performing Arts Campus.

The 2009 Master Plan is actually a continuation of the 1998 Master Plan, from which the Student Services building concept was born. The approval of Bond issue AA by Santa Monica district voters last Nov. gave SMC more money to continue its campus reconstruction and the SMC Facilities Planning group wasted no time putting the money to use.

SMC hired Gensler, a global design and architecture firm, for the Master Plan's inception in 1998 and continues to be guided by the firm's vision. Vice president of Gensler and lead architect on the project, Marty Borko said, "The physical facilities, the buildings, the open spaces and all the infrastructure is really there as a support to the educational mission of the college."

Changes to the main campus include more than the Student Services building and its underground parking. "The new Drescher Hall will have a mix of establishments that will appeal to students and the community," said Greg Brown, director of facilities planning.

It will hold a greatly expanded bookstore, space for a souvenir shop, room for electronics and computer store, a coffee shop and dining areas. The Pico side of Drescher will have a transit plaza called the Pico Promenade, which will allow access of up to four Big Blue Buses at once and will display an LED sign with an electronic timetable.

Drescher Hall will be the only existing building to be remodeled. According to the 2009 Master Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR), all other main campus buildings mentioned in the Master Plan will be demolished. Among the buildings slated for demolition are; the Liberal Arts Building, the Letters and Science Building, the Math Complex and Library Village, the Physical Education/Fitness/Dance Building, the ESL Building, and the Corsair Stadium.

Gensler architectural firm promises that SMC will not, however, appear to be ruins amidst rubble. Gensler has worked with SMC to develop a project timeline that staggers demolition and construction, a kind of facilities musical chairs that will keep classes running smoothly.

Borko said, "The bulk of construction will take place between the years 2011 and 2013." He calls 2013, SMC's "banner year," when students can begin to see the metamorphosis of the new campus realized.

The AET campus will be the new home of SMC radio station KCRW and the exclusive satellite campus for Journalism and Broadcasting students. The existing building will have a new wing for additional classroom space and a parking structure adding approximately 188 spaces. The nearby Olympic Shuttle site, which serves the Academy campus and is a Big Blue Bus stop, will grow to include a parking structure with 630 spaces (currently 209), according to the EIR.

The Performing Arts Campus will see an expansion of the music school and a new two-story wing connected to the main structure. The Master Plan adds an extension to the west wing of the main building and introduces a new fine arts exhibition building with related classrooms and offices. Borko said that the renovations will serve to give the area "more of a campus feel." Parking will show a net increase of 360 spaces.

Environmental consultant Shane Parker, vice president of Christopher A. Joseph & Associates, spoke informally after the meeting about the importance of a sustainable campus. Parker is in charge of making sure that SMC reaches its goal of getting Silver LEED recognition. LEED is a rating system for sustainable construction that awards projects with a good, better, or excellent acknowledgment using the colors Silver, Gold and Platinum, respectively.

Talking further about sustainability, Borko stressed how much SMC has done to provide reliable transportation through its contract with the Big Blue Bus and how SMC encourages biking by providing large, open spaces on campus and plentiful numbers of bike racks. A major consideration in the building project is an energy-saving, utility Central Plant that will be centrally located on SMC's main campus and will reduce energy costs and improve the environment.  

Borko explained the urgency for students to attend these meetings: "It's their campus. What they say matters." There will be two more community meetings to discuss the 2009 Master Plan. The last scoping meeting on Wed., Oct. 14 in Business Room 111 will solicit public comments with regard to environmental impacts of the project. Whether you'd like to suggest more green alternatives, argue about the proposed demolitions or just say "thank you" for the extra parking, come and make your voice heard.