Reflecting the past and present, a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) building was officially unveiled last week during a public opening celebration on the South Pasadena High campus.
It was a longtime coming.
“It’s here, it’s done, with much thanks to the community for supporting Measure SP,” South Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Geoff Yantz told a gathering of about 100 people as he stood at the podium in the structure’s courtyard, proud of the school’s newest addition.
Yantz made opening remarks and introduced elected officials before the microphone was handed over to Board of Education President Dr. Suzie Abajian and SPHS Principal Janet Anderson, who shared their thoughts about the building.
Prior to the program, Yantz praised district staff, past and current school board members, the contractor and architect, along with others who played a hand in seeing the STEM building come to fruition.
Construction was funded from Measure SP, the local $98 million bond measure passed by South Pasadena voters in November 2016.
“This is the most substantial project, the largest, using Measure SP funds,” explained Yantz. “It’s a project the (school) board had started discussing about 8 or nine years ago, talking about the need and now it’s being accomplished. We’re fortunate the community supported Measure SP. We’re very excited for the school, the students, the teachers who will benefit from this building.”
Classes officially opened on January 22, as students left portables in favor of the building at 1318 Diamond Avenue, which features four science labs, six regular classrooms for mathematics instruction, a flex lab a conference room, student and faculty restrooms, and a locker room for the girls’ softball team.
The structure is an especially welcome addition to the campus for teachers and students, who didn’t always have it so good.
“Our math department had held instruction in very old portables that were meant to be short term and were used over 20 years, perhaps,” explained Yantz. “It certainly was not the environment that is conducive for the expectations we have as our instructional practices as well as learning. Our employees who come in day in and day out work really hard. They deserve to be in a safe, productive environment.”
They will now have it, maintains the superintendent, with the new facility.
On the science side, Yantz said the labs were much needed to enhance instruction. “Before the building opened, teachers had to share labs, having them move from to room to room. We had roving teachers. There was just an overall demand for more science labs and I’m glad we now have them. This new building allows each teacher to have their own classroom. I’m just so proud we can provide such a facility for our instructors and students who so deserve it.”
Bulldozers started clearing the area, including a pair of tennis courts, for the new STEM building in late 2017. Fourteen months later the job was complete.
Like many in the crowd, Abajian is thankful the long wait for the building is over. “I think it’s beautiful, I’m very excited for a 21st century structure for our science and math classrooms,” she said. “This is long in coming. I remember being here 20 years ago as a teacher and moving in to the portables. That was supposed to be a temporary solution but they ended up being there for 20 years. These are the classrooms I would have loved having as a teacher back then, but I’m glad our students can enjoy them now.”
Speaking at the public opening, Abajian thanked the voters in the city for passing the bond measure, which enabled the necessary funding for the STEM building.
She then expressed gratitude for the school district’s administrative team, praising Yantz for his “vision and leadership for expediting this project so it could be completed in a timely manner – less than three years,” she said. “That’s pretty incredible.”
Abajian also acknowledged the work of past and present school board members for approving the plan for the project. “Thank you for your leadership,” she stressed.
South Pasadena High teachers were applauded “for being so patient and for giving their input on this project,” added Abajian, closing her remarks by thanking Anderson for her leadership throughout the process.
Anderson said the structure “is a dream that morphed into something that really suits our current students and students of the future,” she said. “I just want you to know how much we appreciate all who made it happen.”
Taking in the ceremony was Dean Papadakis, who has been teaching high school physics for 34 years. He echoed the thoughts of many, saying it was nice to have a new building to accommodate the needs of South Pasadena students. “They are enjoying it,” he said. “We’re still waiting on a few little details, but overall the building is great. As teachers, we got asked what we wanted and many of our wishes came true.”
Bob Simons, the architect for the project, said it was important to tie the design of the building back to the existing campus. “We wanted to emulate the original style here,” he said, admiring the building. “We wanted to make it appear seamless, like it had been here for some time. It think it has that feel and flavor. It’s a moderne-style of architecture that was fairly popular in the 1930s. You’ll see that in some of the curved edges.”
Light refreshments were served during the event and the SPHS Jazz Band performed for community members, who were encouraged to walk through the building following the program before attending the school’s annual spring open house.
The event concluded with many who played a role in the long-awaited structure using poppers to shoot streams of confetti into the air, celebrating the accomplishment. Applause followed, signaling a job well done.
“The teachers are enjoying their new digs,” said Yantz, showing a big smile, pleased that it’s now finished and receiving accolades from community members. “It is a beautiful building.”