End in Sight for Malibu High Construction

Crews found sewer, gas and water pipes in the ground at the original site for the main distribution frame—the campus “nerve center.”

Students and staff at Malibu High School will have at least two more years of construction to deal with—if everything goes according to schedule. 

This is per Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Chief Operating Officer Carey Upton, who gave The Malibu Times a tour of the construction at the high school.

Upton has worked for the district for 11 years, originally as the director of facility use. In 2013, when the issue of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) came to light, he assisted with community meetings and security. 

After taking on more responsibility, Upton was promoted to chief operations officer in 2016, when construction on the school began.

The designing stage took place around 2006-07, with construction set to start in 2011. The plan “hung out in Coastal Commission” due to neighbors’ issues with lights in the new parking lot. 

The project was then restarted in 2016, but by then, MHS was on its “fourth or fifth principal” and while the construction firm stayed the same, “the people who designed it aren’t the same people.” 


“If we had built that building over there [middle school building E] in 2011, that building would have cost $36-$37 million,” Upton said. “That building’s now going to cost us $51 million.” 

He added that price was going up due to the exorbitant cost of building, especially surrounding the Los Angeles County area, and that costs were also going up due to “environmental things.” Right now, he estimates that the total construction cost will be under $52-54 million.  

Middle school building

The middle school building—otherwise known as building E—is being replaced with a two-story building made out of “shipping containers,” with 12 classrooms and an elevator. 

The cost to construct a new building ended up being similar to renovation costs, leading the district to demolish the building.

The district aims to have the building open by next January. 

For ease of construction, the student parking lot (located on the hill toward the entrance to Morning View Drive) had to be built before construction on the new building could start.

“There’s a sequence to all of these things,” Upton explained. 

Parking lot

The student parking lot, which currently serves as staff parking, is finished and ready for use. 

According to Upton, the school thought it better to “put the teachers up there,” for now, making it easier to keep track of students. 

Construction of the lot—which is divided into three zones with timed lighting restrictions—was tied up due to a lawsuit filed by Malibu Community Alliance, but an agreement was reached in 2016.

Upton emphasized that all the lights were “dark skies approved.” 

Now, the district awaits approval from the city for a water meter in order to install landscaping. A new set of stairs will also be installed near the field as a path to the main MHS campus.

Campus ‘nerve center’

The administration/library/science building—known as building AB—is also due for a remodel. It is a task made difficult when dealing with the main distribution frame (MDF). In layman’s terms, Upton described it as “the nerve center of the campus.”

In what looks like a closet, the controls to the school’s low wattage items, including phones, alarms, bells, clocks and more, are all connected.

The plan was to move the MDF behind building D but workers soon found it was not possible due to sewer, gas and water pipes in the ground. 

“Our earlier investigations, which were done back in 2008, didn’t give us everything we needed to know about that,” Upton said.

The solution? Building the 9 x 12 feet space next to the original chosen space.

The move is scheduled to be completed by early April.

Look for part two of this story—how PCB testing and remediation has impacted the cost and schedule of construction—in next week’s edition.