Constructing a place to learn

A new two-story building was constructed at West Creek Academy in Valencia. Eddy Martinez/The Signal.

The Saugus Union School District is in the beginning phase of adding a new science building to every school site in the district.

The new additions were made official when the governing board authorized JTS and HMC Group to provide the architectectural services for the new classroom buildings during Tuesday’s district meeting.

The district is emphasizing science instruction and learning opportunities with real-world applications, Saugus Superintendent Colleen Hawkins said. “We’re committed to updated 21st century facilities,” where students have access to the appropriate lab and computer equipment.

“We want kids experimenting as they’re learning science,” not reading from a book, she added. “To do that in a regular classroom can be challenging if there isn’t access to all of the appropriate specialized equipment.”

That is why there will be an “in and out component” to every science lab, said Magdy Abdalla, district director of facilities, construction and modernization. “There’s a learning environment inside the four walls, but there’s also an outside learning environment.”

Rather than students reading about situations in a book, Hawkins said, “they’re being exposed to new situations and learning new things, such as how the physics of a situation happen or how does the water affect a particular piece.”

The district found that having the lab in a contained science setting allows all students — whether they’re in an older school or portable buildings — to have the same experience and appropriate equipment ready and available to them, Hawkins said. The goal is to better prepare Saugus’ students for more advanced lab sciences in the middle and high school grade levels.

The design work for the modular building began July 18, and a few concepts have already been created for a few of Saugus’ school sites.

“Everything is geared towards the child’s learning experience,” Abdalla said, “even furniture.”

Tables will move so kids can participate in group activities, and interactive technology will be available throughout the classes, so students can participate in coding and robot technology lessons.

Thanks to funds from Measure EE, both projects will be built in spite of the fact that Gov. Jerry Brown refuses to release the billions of dollars that are owed to districts across the state of California through Proposition 51, according to the agenda report. The architecture services of the buildings will cost around $350,000. Measure EE is a bond measure approved by SUSD voters in 2014.

Construction isn’t expected to begin until sometime between 2019 and 2020, but not all 10 sites will be done during that summer, Abdalla said. Instead, the district will spread them out and do three or four each year.

The three sites that won’t receive stand-alone science buildings — Plum Canyon, Foster and Rosedell — will model West Creek Academy’s structure, meaning science-specific classrooms will be in a building along with general instruction class spaces.

JTS will be responsible for the architectural design of the stand-alone modular science building, which will be manufactured off-site, while HMC Group is tasked with making sure the building fits the various school site campuses.

“We have state-of-the-art equipment and we aren’t holding back on quality,” Abdalla said.

“For us, they’re age-appropriate science labs, so things such as gas hookups and things you might see in a high school lab don’t exist, for safety reasons,” Hawkins added. “But we’ll make sure (the students) have appropriate science experiences to prepare them to be successful in (their future) environment.”

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