Time to Weigh in on New MHS Campus Plan

A diagram in the environmental impact report shows access, parking lots and campus entry points for the proposed overhauled Malibu High School campus project. 

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) has released environmental plans for the proposed Malibu High School (MHS) replacement project, to be built on the site of the former Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, the next phase in the evolution of the MHS campus.

The hilltop facility would be built to maximize views of the ocean to the southwest, a view that now hosts garbage bins and the loading dock at the old Juan Cabrillo site, which the high school structure will displace. Juan Cabrillo students were moved to the Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School site—renamed Malibu Elementary School—in 2019.

The plans call for a $160 million project to build a flexible high school that can be expanded if student population in Malibu swells again. The money is in the bank, as Malibu voters approved Measure M in 2018, a $195 million bond that Santa Monica cannot get its hands on it, backers noted. Unlike two previous school bonds, which saw a transfer of an estimated $90 million from Malibu taxpayers to Santa Monica construction projects, under state law 100 percent of Measure M’s money must be spent in Malibu.

In the center of the campus, the performing arts center would have a maximum height of 45 feet above ground level for the theater portion, and 36 feet above grade for the remainder of the performing arts facilities. But the theater would be situated so it is lower than the gyms to the north.

High school performing arts facilities require a vertical stage opening of 25 feet to the bottom of the proscenium, and the long-span structure, tension-lighting grid ceiling system and roof slope would add another 20 feet. This makes a total height of 45 feet, allowing the school to produce the types of theatrical performances expected in a high school theater curriculum, architects said.

As reported in The Malibu Times last year, architects designed indoor classroom spaces spilling into outdoor spaces, an array of solar panels atop the building and storm water landscaping providing plenty of greenery and nature.

Nathan Bishop, principal in charge of design at Koning Eizenberg Architecture, described the school’s western courtyard, with its expansive views of the ocean, as having “layers of activity,” with socializing, learning and project-making in close proximity.

“What we really wanted to do was embrace the hillside context for this project” where “the landscape itself becomes a living laboratory for students,” Bishop said when plans were unveiled earlier this year.

The environmental impact report is more straightforward. It describes what some will see as negative impacts of the project, such as the height of the auditorium and the need to relocate the school bus barn from the center of the campus to a dirt area in a canyon next to the Malibu Equestrian Center, a City of Malibu park on school district land accessed by Merritt Drive.

In the past, people who use the park for horse training have objected strongly to that concept, saying that school bus operations would spook horses and intrude on their isolated canyon. The equestrian center, they say, is a last connection the Trancas Riders and Ropers club that used to operate at Trancas Creek, and the western heritage of old Malibu. Others object to school buses on Merritt Drive, a quiet, winding, residential street.

Some school advocates note that most of the horse fanciers live outside Malibu, and that very few people use the park, which is on land purchased by the school district in 1954 for a junior and senior high school campus.

As planned, the district would demolish all seven buildings and nine portable classrooms on the former Cabrillo campus, as well as six on the old MHS campus. The antiquated and overused 25-meter lighted, outdoor pool complex would be demolished, and new 50-meter outdoor pool complex would be developed. The joint MHS/community pool would be lit to minimum standards required by state architects.

No changes to the existing main football/track sports field or the baseball and softball diamonds would be made, with the exception of minor improvements, including the development of new field houses and additional parking adjacent to the softball field.

The proposal includes restoring a damaged Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, or ESHA, on the west side of the school, and relocation of the main access road to the western edge of campus. A new trail along the arroyo would connect to the existing, larger public trail network around the campus.

On the east side of the middle school, a large hillside would be covered by a 422 kilowatt photovoltaic system with anti-reflective coating. Solar panels on new buildings will also feed a battery system designed to keep the schools functioning during the frequent intentional power outage notices, which have caused 20 days of canceled classes since 2018.

The new high school construction includes 32 classrooms, plus eight labs. That would give the middle/high school campus a total of 51 classrooms and 12 labs and a total of 222,425 square feet of building space.

The Environmental Impact Statement opens a 45-day comment period when Malibu residents may raise specific objections to aspects of the proposal if they spot transgressions against the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The objections must be answered in writing by the lead agency, the SMMUSD, and then the EIR must be approved by the school board.

After that, the Coastal Development Permit must be approved by the Malibu City Council and coastal commission.

The district is on a tight schedule, hoping to open the buildings in 2024.

The SMMUSD will host a community meeting, in public and on Zoom, from 6-8 p.m. on Nov. 2. It will be held in the old cafetorium at the former Juan Cabrillo Elementary School. More details are available at www.smmusd.org/Page/5601.