Parents seek to build $10 million bioscience and tech center at La Jolla High by Fall 2016
Donations and Details
By Pat Sherman
Given the increasing importance placed on science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM), parents and teachers at La Jolla High School want to assure their students have an adequate, modern facility in which to excel in these crucial, competitive fields.
Plans have been released and fundraising will soon begin in earnest to construct an approximately 13,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Biological Science and Technology Center at La Jolla High. It would be one of the nation’s first dedicated, stand-alone biological science and technology centers at a public high school, giving La Jolla High students access to research-grade equipment and supplies for the first time. The new center would also feature guest lectures by prominent scientists in industry and academia.
Plans are being reviewed and refined by faculty and administration. Organizers hope to begin construction in 2015 and hold the first classes there in fall 2016. The facility would be located behind the swimming pool, next to the band building and would take the place of two older, existing classrooms (which would be relocated to current science labs in the 700 building).
Parents and teachers say current science class and lab space at La Jolla High is crowded and technologically inadequate.
“In this day and age, with larger classes, it’s extremely difficult at times to do certain labs,” said Aaron Quesnell, who teaches advanced courses in environmental science and biology at La Jolla High. “There’s not a lot of room to walk around the class. … In the chemistry department, they’re even tighter than we are. There’s no room to physically walk in between benches, and some of the cabinets won’t open because they’re so tight against adjoining benches. When you have more than 30 students in a class there’s not enough seating in the lecture areas, so you have students that have to sit up on lab benches that are somewhat removed from the information.”
In addition to offering more space for biology and chemistry instruction, the new building would focus on emerging 21st century biological science and engineering concepts such as: healthcare, agriculture and aquaculture, alternative energy and biofuel development, marine ecosystems, DNA extraction, gene expression and protein synthesis.
According to a website for the proposed, two-level center, showing detailed architectural renderings (ljhs-biosciencecenter.com), “Typical deficiencies (of 20th century) science labs are their inability to accommodate focused lectures and demonstrations, and to provide for small group collaboration. They also lack the technical infrastructure necessary for common bioscience and technology experiments.”
La Jolla High Principal Chuck Podhorsky said he is “incredibly excited that this new life science facility will, for the first time, allow modern, high-school level biotechnology and marine science experiments to be conducted (at La Jolla High). … For too long, our students have had to go off-campus to experience the thrill of scientific discovery.”
Podhorsky said the center’s strength would be its flexibility of usage. “We’re not locking down into one particular area of science … which is what you really want to do when you design school facilities, really think beyond what you can possibly imagine now,” he said.
Linden Blue, a father of a La Jolla High graduate, as well as several current and prospective La Jolla High students and a La Jolla High School Foundation board trustee, said the entire project and related upgrades will cost between $10 million and $11 million.
“We’re trying to set up a foundation directly for this project as opposed to going through the high school foundation, which has its own mission of raising operational funds for the school throughout the year,” said Blue, who is leading the parent fundraising team, which paid for early architectural concept plans by BakerNowicki Design Studio.
“We’re in the very beginning stages now of contacting prospective donors,” Blue said, likening the fundraising campaign to that of the successful Coggan Family Aquatic Complex effort at La Jolla High.
“That was done primarily through private donations and then later the district helped a little bit,” he said.
Lee Dulgeroff, executive director of facilities planning and construction for San Diego Unified School District, said via e-mail that the district plans to “modernize La Jolla High’s science labs with a focus on bio-science learning spaces,” though he would not say how much of a financial contribution the district might make toward such a new facility.
“There appears to be support from parents and staff to construct a bioscience and technology center, but the proposed project is in its preliminary stages,” Dulgeroff said. “The district is working with school stakeholders to develop the details for the upgrades.”
Either way, project organizers expect district funding for the project to be insufficient, and are looking into private support, including that of La Jolla’s leading biotech industry.
“La Jolla is blessed with an extremely rich infrastructure of biotechnology companies and research institutes,” Podhorsky said. “It is a world leader in marine biology research. We need to take advantage of those resources through interactive collaborations, which this center will facilitate.”
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