When students take their seats next fall, they’ll find a world of cutting-edge knowledge waiting for them on the campus of the Lemon Grove School District’s new magnet school.
Amid singing and passionate presentations Wednesday morning at the shuttered Lemon Grove Middle School, district officials celebrated the groundbreaking of a $10.4 million dual project that will both modernize the middle school into a
Rick Oser, principal of Golden Avenue Elementary School, has been named to the helm of the STEM school.
“This is definitely going to be a school that transforms the community,” he says. “It’s going to engage students in a way that they’ve never been engaged before—and to be able to be a part of it, to be the principal, is a complete honor.”
A group of buildings on the campus will be demolished to make way for the joint-use library, and remaining structures will be upgraded with new science labs and locker rooms, among other improvements. The new magnet school will also feature a revitalized lunch courtyard.
The library, to be operated by the school district and the San Diego County Library, will be constructed on School Lane and Lincoln Street in a Mission style that celebrates the city’s history. Legacy Building Services Inc. of San Diego was chosen by the school board to design and build the twin projects.
Yet to be decided, however, is the school’s name and configuration.
“Those answers really have to do with whether one school in the district closes, or two schools in the district close,” Oser says.
Part of the school’s name may hinge on which grades it comprises. And while it’s referred to as a STEM school, that moniker probably won’t make the final cut, according to Superintendent Ernie Anastos.
“We always talk about a STEM academy, but personally I don’t think we’re going to use the word STEM in the name,” he says. “It may not be a term that’s in general use.”
Oser says the campus may remain sixth through eighth grades, or may convert to preschool through eighth grade.
The school board is currently necessary for the next school year due to continued budget restrictions. Budget cuts and shrinking enrollment have cost the K-8 district about $10 million over the last four years, and school officials anticipate an estimated $1.6 million to $3.1 million in additional reductions for 2012-2013.
Today’s celebration featured the Golden Avenue School Choir and the Lemon Grove School District Band, as well as dignitaries, speakers and a special taped message from Rosemary Putnam, president of the Friends of the Lemon Grove Library.
City Councilman George Gastil, a former school board member, called the day “huge,” with the city finally getting the centrally located library “we’ve been talking about for 30 or 40 years.”
“I think this library wouldn’t be happening if the school district and the county hadn’t gotten together,” Gastil says. ”I think that’s the key.”
Lemon Grove has previously tried to build a new library, but a 2004 bond initiative failed. Funding for modernizing the middle school and building the library comes from Proposition W, the $28 million school bond measure passed by voters in 2008.
Helen Ofield, president of the Lemon Grove Historical Society and a member of the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee, presented the district with the original school bell, cast 117 years ago by the Charles S. Bell Foundry in Hillsboro, OH, and ordered in 1895 from the Sears catalog.
Ofield says today’s groundbreaking is “a moment when human energy and culture and education and hope for the future all meet in one crystalline moment. This moment embodies the hopes and aspirations of generations of Lemon Grovians.”
For Anastos, the morning’s event was an enormous sign of relief.
“This particular project has been in the works for a full five years, leading up to the bond initiative of 2008 and then right up to today,” he says. “The dream of a library has been in the hearts of Lemon Grove for probably a decade before that. So this is really an historic moment for the city—and for the school district, we are just very proud.
“There is nothing you can put in a child’s hands that is more powerful than a book, and doing so in a beautiful school is perfect.”
Editor's note: This article has been revised to change the budget shortfall amounts anticipated by the school district for the 2012-2013 school year.