Old SPMS Gym Gets New Life

A construction worker excavates dirt from the basement of the SPMS old gymnasium. Photo by Skye Hannah

Construction on the repurposing of the old gymnasium at South Pasadena Middle School is humming along since the process began in July. The approximately $14 million project is expected to be completed in August 2020, according to school officials. The project is one of several for the district paid for by the Measure SP bond.

The interior space will be transformed into a visual and performing arts black-box theater, an arts room and a flex lab for science and engineering. The theater space will host the dance class, drama program, after-school programs with the South Pasadena Educational Foundation and musical gatherings. A new atrium entrance with skylights will also be added along with a new entry on the west side to better connect the campus for students.

“In the end, it will be beautiful,” School Superintendent Dr. Geoff Yantz told the Review during a tour of the site. “It’ll be a great space, and we’re anticipating the black box theater to be very popular.”

The old gymnasium was built more than 100 years ago and featured coaches’ offices and two locker rooms in the basement with a gym floor on the main floor. Community input and research drove the district’s decision to rehabilitate the space and keep the exterior intact. The district is working with SVA Architects on all planning and Balfour Beatty as construction manager for the bond project.

“It’s an expensive project,” said Yantz. “We knew that going in, and that was the trade-off. Part of the decision was should we tear it down, should we not. The board had decided to keep it and rehab it.”

Around 15 percent of the construction work has been completed to date, according to Yantz. Construction workers are currently in the process of maintaining the structural integrity of the old building while reinforcing the foundation and bringing it up to earthquake code. Retaining walls will be built on the inside, thickening the existing walls and adding stability.

Essentially, it will be a new building within the old building.

“The real bread and butter of this project, the workhorse in order to preserve the value to the neighborhood and the community, is all the structural upgrades on the inside,” said Balfour Beatty Superintendent of Construction Michael Carey.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoff Yantz (left) and Balfour Beatty Superintendent of Construction Michael Carey point out approximately 100-year-old wood siding that is set to be removed from the SPMS old gymnasium.

A large portion of the original flooring will remain, as well as the arching wood beams that graced the ceiling of the gymnasium.

“All these existing wood tresses, all that is scheduled to stay,” said Carey. “We’ve got this beautiful architectural old historic roof framing that you’re going to be able to see once the building is opened up in the theater, as well as in the vestibule as you make your way to the flex lab and the art classroom up above.”

Excavation is also occurring, with a pit being dug for an elevator. As with all school construction projects, the planning process requires approval from the Division of the State Architect (DSA) within the Department of General Services. DSA grants approval to projects under its jurisdiction by looking at Title 24 compliance as well as requirements of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), structural analysis and environmental standards. 

“It’ll be a wonderful use of space,” said Yantz. “It’ll function much better structurally as well as for learning.”

Voters in South Pasadena passed Measure SP in November 2016 by a 3-1 margin. The measure provides funds for campus improvements at all five of SPUSD’s schools.

Construction workers remove old gym floorboards by hand on Sept. 10. Photos by Skye Hannah

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