Snafus Plague Move of Santa Monica-Malibu Headquarters : School Workers Muscle Way Into New Facility

Times Staff Writer

It was moving week in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, complete with the usual hassles--items lost, broken or misplaced in the confusion of packing, carting and unpacking boxes.

Dressed in jeans and sneakers, scores of district workers hauled the entire contents of the old Santa Monica-Malibu headquarters, including boxes of records, supplies and office furniture, to the new facility on 16th Street and Olympic Boulevard.

One of the 3,000 boxes they carried away got misplaced, and that single box was worth more than its weight in gold--about $400,000.

It contained the applications of 150 new students recruited by the district through a campaign aimed at enrolling the children of parents who work in Santa Monica and Malibu but live outside the area. Each student is worth about $2,800 a year in state funds.

$10 Reward Offered

"We were supposed to take it by hand with all the other valuables, but somehow it was lost," said Rita Esquivel, the assistant to the superintendent. "We went through every box we saw looking for it. I could not sleep that night. I even offered a ($10) reward to find it."

District workers searched for the missing box in every corner of the new building. Embarrassed school officials wondered whether they would have to make a public appeal for the parents to submit new applications.

Two days later the box was finally found. "Someone had put a top on it and tossed it in a truck loaded with other boxes," Esquivel said. "There was a great deal of excitement and a roar went up in the building" when the box turned up.

The missing box was among the many headaches that district workers faced during the long-awaited move. Files were misplaced. Feelings were ruffled. Navigation was difficult through the crush of boxes and people. The telephones did not work.

But by week's end things were beginning to run smoothly again.

Short of Money

"All things being considered, everything is all right," Supt. Eugene Tucker said. "A move is difficult under any circumstance, but when you are moving and trying to maintain the normal work flow it is very difficult. Breaking up a nest and building a new one is a challenge."

He said once the move is completed within the next week, it will take weeks to reorganize.

Because the district has been short of money, most of the heavy moving was done by district's staff.

"The staff has been wonderful," said Michael McCarty, the district business manager. "They have given up a lot. Many were moving computers, typewriters and other office supplies in their own cars."

McCarty, like many other district employees last week, came to work dressed in old clothes and prepared to spend hours lifting boxes and driving records and supplies to the new building in his car.

"I have been here so long I don't know what my children look like any more," he said. "That is why I keep a picture on my desk, but I think they have grown since these pictures were taken."

Well-Equipped Facility

Few involved in the move regretted leaving the old headquarters. "The building was meant to be temporary, but it was a temporary move that lasted 40 years," McCarty said.

The district's modern two-story home occupies 40,000 square feet in a commercial office complex. The new headquarters has an auditorium that can seat 172 people, a cafeteria, outdoor patio, warehouse space and a garage equipped with a lift to service heavy-duty trucks and buses.

It was constructed for the district under a 66-year joint-occupancy lease agreement with Midis Properties and City Developers , both of Westlake Village.

The developers agreed to build the headquarters and provide lease payments to the district of up to $1 million a year. In exchange, the developers were permitted to build a $5-million commercial office complex on district property at 900 Colorado Blvd, and will build a $35-million hotel and retail complex on the site of the district's old headquarters on 4th Street.

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