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Volume 15, Issue 45  | June 6, 2023Subscribe

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LBUSD board gets preliminary peek at possible plans for $11M new district office project


Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education (LBUSD) got a preliminary peek at what a new district office facility might include at an informational meeting last week.

The board held a study session Thursday, Sept. 23 to hear a feasibility report on a facilities project for a proposed new district office. The project, which could cost an estimated $10.95 million, proposes demolishing one building and remodeling another in the next few years. Staff emphasized that the plans presented were just possible options and that no decision has been made for the site.

Overall, board members were supportive of moving forward with studying the potential project.

“The collaboration to create this draft plan is amazing, with all the different thoughts that you brought forward to us,” said Board President Carol Normandin. “I’m excited to see what you bring back.”

With the development of the facilities master plan in 2014, LBUSD staff looked at all district-owned facilities and developed the 10-year plan that looked at major modernization and renovation projects, explained Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Jeff Dixon.

In 2015, a feasibility study for the district office was done that identified the needs for the district and how that would look in terms of a new and/or remodeled building. Based on the needs identified, it was determined that a new building may be the best option. 

The scope of the project included keeping one building, demolishing the other, and building a new two-story building on the east side of the parking lot adjacent to the slope. Due to logistical and budgeting challenges, the project was not pursued at the time.

In 2019, a $1.5 million project at the district office was added to the facilities master plan to begin identifying ways to improve the boardroom, public restrooms, and modernize interior spaces for operations and efficiency. The project addresses a few identified needs but falls short of addressing the many needs of the staff, students and community at the district office facility. 

Earlier this year, the board approved a contract with Ruhnau Clarke Architects to provide a district office feasibility study. 

On Thursday, staff and an RCA official presented updated plans to the board that included demolishing the front building (on the corner of Blumont Street and Virginia Park Drive) and replacing it with a new two-story structure on the same footprint, and remodeling/modernizing the second building in the back.

LBUSD build site plan

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Rendering courtesy of LBUSD/Ruhnau Clarke Architects

A possible site plan for the new district offices

Estimated costs are using broad numbers, noted Ruhnau Clarke Architects President Roger Clarke.

“Costs are a little crazy right now,” he said. “There’s supply chain issues, there’s things that we don’t know. We don’t know what we’re going to run into with governing agencies yet.”

The projected costs shared at the board meeting are based on previous experience, Clarke said. Costs include the new building, the remodel, site work that needs to be done, some grading and interim housing.

Total hard construction costs total an estimated $8.25 million and soft costs (furniture, equipment, architect and engineering fees, or inspection fees, etc.) are estimated at $2.69 million, for a total project cost estimated at $10.95 million.

It was challenging looking at how the existing building was configured and the issues with complying to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on the site, Clarke said. 

“All those kinds of things just felt like it was really going to be extremely difficult, and, actually, almost as expensive to fix that facility and make it halfway workable, as it would be to rebuild the facility on that site,” Clarke said, “and so that was kind of the logical conclusion.”

Clarke provided potential options for the layout of the facility, including possible locations of the boardroom, superintendent’s office, communications, human resources, support services, elevators, restrooms, common facilities (e.g., lounge), business services, special education and common breakout areas.

There are also a few different options to remodel the existing building, he noted, which will house technology, instructional services, more support services, restrooms, a lobby and a common meeting room for a number of different community groups, including the SchoolPower, LBUSD’s education foundation. 

“This is just showing, based on the deficiencies that have been identified, the potential new building could actually fit on the existing site,” Dixon said. “But, again, there are other options that may not involve this site that we haven’t explored at this point.”

LBUSD build admin

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The LBUSD administration buildings may be replaced and remodeled in the coming years 

Board members directed staff to consider other potential properties for the project. Although there’s not a lot of district-owned land in the city, as staff pointed out, there are some possibilities. 

“The current building is a challenge; and a big challenge for the people who work therein, something that needs to be done,” said Board Member Jim Kelly. “I’m just wondering if there’s other possibilities.”

He suggested considering other properties, like the St. Catherine of Siena Parish School at 30516 S. Coast Hwy., which the archdiocese of Orange County is reportedly interested in selling, Kelly said.

The bus yard in the canyon was also mentioned as a possibility.

Other board members agreed that considering other locations would be worthwhile.

“I support looking at some other options as well, at least exploring them so we know that we have covered some of the other district-owned properties as well as other possible properties for acquisition,” said Board Clerk Kelly Osborne. “I think that’s a fair request to make when we’re looking at a $10 to $11 million dollar project so I’m in full support of that.”

A few board members wanted to look into the idea of demolishing both buildings, although that wasn’t a unanimous opinion on the dais. 

“I can understand demolishing the house, (but) I can’t see putting any money into the old administration building,” Kelly said. “Something needs to be done, but I wouldn’t put another penny into remodeling the existing building.”

“Investing money into those old houses doesn’t make much sense,” Normandin agreed. “It doesn’t seem to be a good use of tax dollars.”

However not everyone was keen to the idea of tearing both structures down.

Since the experts presented the idea of keeping the building and remodeling it, that’s the plan they should stick to, said Board Member Jan Vickers. The board shouldn’t stray too far from what the experts brought forth, she said. 

“I’m just concerned we start putting our own things too much into it,” Vickers said. “This is their career, their job, what they’re experts at. We could design a ‘camel.’ I don’t want to do that.”

Demolishing both buildings could come at a major additional cost, she added. 

They can explore other options, Vickers said, but the bottom line is they need to be cognizant of overall costs and utilize the experts they hired to do the job.

LBUSD board building 2 option 1

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Rendering courtesy of LBUSD/Ruhnau Clarke Architects

One option for remodel plans of the LBUSD district office

Plans for the project, wherever it may end up and however it may be developed, include some modern ideas for an administration facility, including shared community spaces and utilizing outdoor areas. 

These spaces are aimed at bringing people together and unifying the employees that work in the district office, Clarke said.

At a visioning workshop, staff heard several desired outcomes for the project: A comfortable and convenient space for community engagement, areas for focused work, uniting all departments, spaces for collaboration, clearly defined areas that support workflow, and a design that goes beyond what’s standard, the way things work is shifting.

A number of common themes were highlighted at the workshop, including creating indoor-outdoor connections, incorporating sustainability to reduce energy consumption, and creating visual transparency while still providing needed privacy.

The idea of visual transparency stemmed from the overall vision, he added, the idea of people that can collaborate and see each other, but yet they can still have a focused work area, Clarke explained.

Outdoor areas that connect from the inside allow people to spill outside, and for staff to hold meetings and functions outside. 

“(These ideas are about) taking advantage of every inch of this site to make sure that you create as many opportunities as possible for either work areas, for that connection to the outdoors and for your community to be a part of,” Clarke said. 

There was support from the board for the community room idea, flexible spaces, and a focus on the needs of the district employees. 

All staff who need the workspace and areas for collaboration are the priority, Vickers said. As LBUSD Board of Education, they have about 18 meetings a year and some special meetings, so they don’t need a grand facility to do that, she said.

“I want the major use to be for the people doing the work every day, all day long,” Vickers said. “The needs of the day-to-day operation of the district is the priority.”

LBUSD build building 1 new

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Rendering courtesy of LBUSD/Ruhnau Clarke Architects

Possible plans for the proposed new two-story LBUSD district office

Board members had questions and comments about parking, added square footage, usage of the community room, a possible library, the flexible spaces and more.

Parking, and whether or not this project would create more or reduce the number, would be part of the exploration option when they move forward with the project, Dixon said.

“The issue of needing more parking is well-known and documented,” Dixon said. “So, if we were to (study) a project of any sort and we could provide more parking, I think that would be an obvious choice for us, in the planning of it.”

There was also some discussion about the project going through the city’s design review process. 

Vickers pointed out that when the district remodeled another building, they went through the DRB process as a courtesy. There was some controversy over it at the time, but the project ended going well, she noted. It might be something to consider with this project, she added, since it’s on a neighborhood street. 

A two-story building might worry neighbors in relation to views, Kelly added, and going through design review might help neighbors get on board and envision what the district is trying to do.

The sightlines should remain the same, noted Normandin, who wasn’t sure if they really need to go through the design review process. With any project, they want to be good neighbors and maintain the working relationship with the city, she added. 

On Thursday, district staff was looking for consensus on whether or not the board wants to pursue a project of this scope and, if so, they would then look to add it to the facilities master plan (likely reviewed by the board in February).

There are lots of opportunities between now and when they return with the master plan, and beyond that, for discussion, Dixon noted, but they need to start planning the cash flow.

“The sooner the better, because construction costs don’t go down,” Dixon said. “So, we would like to get it addressed sooner rather than later.”

In doing that, Dixon explained, they would develop a cash flow model that would build this project within the existing capacity of the district’s capital improvement program. But in order to do so, because of the significance of this project, this would need to be pushed out a few years, so they can save up and balance other projects around it.

“We don’t want to start messing with the facilities master plan unless there’s interest and direction from the board to pursue something like this, so we can make it work within the confines of our fiscal constraints,” Dixon said. 

Although there was disagreement on what the project should entail, board members agreed it should move forward in the process and return for more detailed discussion.

“We don’t want it to die in committee,” Normandin said.


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In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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