A ribbon cutting commemorating the completion of a major project at South Pasadena Middle School took place on Tuesday, June 1 with SPUSD administration, SPMS staff, and intrigued guests getting a first glance into the newly-minted facilities.
The heavily renovated — or rehabilitated — historic building, which was first erected in 1928, has transformed from what Board of Education President Ruby Kalra dubbed in a languished tone as “the old SPMS Gym” to the more excitedly proclaimed “new SPMS Arts Building!”
Only an hour prior to the SPMS 8th Grade Promotion, Kalra, who congratulated the Tiger Cubs, insisted to the audience that it be more prudent to let them soak in the freshly constructed features within the two-story building rather than explain what awaited visitors behind doors, suggesting they will be “stunned and amazed.”
The Board President was accompanied by District Superintendent, Dr. Geoff Yantz; School Board Members Zahir Robb, Dr. Suzie Abajian, Dr. Michele Kipke, Dr. Patricia Martinez-Miller; and representatives from Balfour Beatty construction, as well as SBA Architects to whom Kalra thanked for “all their hard work and staying with us through all the twists and turns that this [historic] old building had in its rehabilitation to its current state.”
Kalra additionally expressed gratitude “to the South Pasadena community for passing Measure SP” which went into effect in 2018, allowing for $98 million in bonds to fund necessary improvements for schools and serving as the primary and sole source of funding for the renovations. Not be overlooked, the Measure SP Citizen Oversight Committee was also thanked for “[making] sure that each and every dollar passed for that bond measure went to exactly what it was intended for.”
Members of the public got to tour state-of-the-art features including a black box theatre — a darkened performance space with audience interaction that varies in size in a square room, a visual arts classroom that features an automatic kiln, and a flex lab that will support STEM programs.
During the event, Deni Valderrama — Senior Project Manager for Balfour Beatty, the project contractor — presented a $500 check to the SPMS Arts Program amongst the musical stylings of middle school student, Madelin Rentmeester, who provided cello accompaniment.
Initially set for a completion date by mid-august 2020, according to an interview with Yantz in January that year, the estimated $13 million project which broke ground in 2019, encountered several roadblocks that delayed the projected wrap-up time.
On the administrative end, the entire edifice itself was the center of debate as early as 2005, when tearing it down in favor of something new was considered an option. However after receiving community input and cries to preserve the building, which itself was not technically eligible for the National Register nor California Register, the district left it standing.
Despite the finding, a stipulation mentioned in a 2017 historical evaluation performed by MIG, Inc. and requested by the school board, stated it was “eligible to be listed as a City of South Pasadena Landmark because it reflects the heritage of the community, is an example of Romanesque Revival architecture, is associated with the locally prominent firm Marsh, Smith & Powell, and exhibits fine architectural details… The Old Gym is therefore considered a historic resource.”
Standing in the shaded courtyard overlooked by the new arts building, SPMS Principal Cheryl Busick admired the collective accomplishment while preparing to address her first graduating 8th grade class. “I’m super excited that the South Pasadena Middle School Arts Building is finally officially open,” she told the South Pasadenan News, evidently grinning at all the new possibilities in store for future students. “We’ve been waiting for months for the big reveal. Some of the teachers haven’t even seen the finished project, so this is a big day!”
Busick admits her first year at SPMS “started out super lonely, being here all by myself” but once the campus officially reopened on April 8 “it was magical, having all the kids and the teachers back. This is really a great place!” Although the 8th graders she saw off later that evening may not experience the facilities as students, she still relished the idea that they may return for community events as Tigers, or perhaps even parents, one day. To the student body for whom the renovations were prominently made, Busick applauds them, saying, “I think that they were super resilient, they weathered this crazy COVID storm and I’m proud of their accomplishments. They get a fresh start to a normal year next school year.”