It has been twenty years since plans for a new gymnasium at Huntington Middle School were shelved when officials were forced to cut costs on what was then the largest construction project in the district’s history, but on Tuesday night, the San Marino school board voted unanimously to enter into a certificate of participation, or COP, to complete the financing for the $14 million Barth Athletic Complex.
In doing so, the board committed the district to the $6.5 million COP that will be payable for 20 years. The 5-0 vote also included the addition of a new agreement whereby the Barth Family has agreed to pay an additional $2 million in debt service over the first four years of the agreement.
Plans for the complex – which include a new gymnasium, fitness room, boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, multi-purpose room, track, athletic field and media classrooms – have already been approved by the Dept. of the State Architect. Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss said at Tuesday’s meeting that the district will put the project out for bid as early as April and expects to break ground in early June when school recesses for summer break.
San Marino residents Avery & Andy Barth last year made an initial donation of $3.5 million for the project. Lisa & Tim Sloan purchased naming rights for the fitness center for $500,000 and the Barger Family, likewise, will have naming rights of the multi-purpose room for their gift of $250,000.
Other contributors include a $50,000 donation from the family of Valerie & Aaron Weiss, $25,000 from Pat Haden via the Fletcher Jones Foundation and $50,000 from the William Hurt Foundation.
The San Marino Unified School District will contribute $2 million in funds that can only be used for facilities.
Any further contributions towards the gymnasium will be applied to pay down the loan, Cherniss said, and if a proposed construction bond passes, whatever is left on the loan will be paid off.
Before voting on the COP, the board heard from four community members who were all in favor of the project including President of the San Marino Council of PTAs Yvonne Chen, Stephanie Duncan and former City Councilman Dennis Kneier, who has been a proponent for the gym for more than twenty years.
“This is analogous to what the city had with the library,” said Kneier. “You will get this for half price. I say ‘do it.’”
Kneier was referencing the arrangement whereby the Crowell Public Library was built with a similar proportion of private donors and public monies.
In her address, Chen mentioned that school organizations often must rent recreational space outside the borders of the district.
“I am confident in the fiscal acumen of the district,” said Chen. “I urge you to please support the Barth Athletic Center.”
When the issue went back to the board for discussion, Board Member Nam Jack struck a similar chord.
“The issue before the board tonight is not why, it is when,” said Jack. “I don’t think there is ever a perfect time because there is no such thing as perfect circumstances. It is therefore up to us, as a board, to do the cost and benefit analysis, to weigh the risks and benefits.”
Jack referenced the “generous private benefactors” before posing a rhetorical question.
“If these key stakeholders are willing to believe, how can I not believe?” she said. “At a certain point, we have to take the first step.”
Board Member Lisa Link said it is “incumbent on the State’s top school district” to provide sufficient facilities and echoed Jack’s statement when she said “If we wait for the perfect moment, it will never come. The time to build the Barth Athletic Complex is now.”
School Board President Joseph Chang took the innovative step of holding up each document the board would be voting on and asking if there were any further questions about the procedure.
“Are there any more questions?” Chang said as he clutched the paperwork and surveyed the remainder of the board, all of which was seated to his right.
None were voiced, and the item was approved, with student Board Member Justin Chang also casting his advisory vote for the project.
The school board is still in discussions with the City of San Marino regarding possible revenue streams for the project. Cherniss has been involved in the project since it came to the school board in 2015 and was happy to see it approved.
“The support for this project has been overwhelming,” Cherniss told The Tribune. “This is an exciting time to be a part of the San Marino Unified School District. The Barth Athletic Complex will provide our students with a state of the art facility that this community deserves.”
Andy Barth also weighed in on the matter.
“We are so excited to help support the drive and the vision of the board in this project,” Barth said. “This is really unfinished business for so many in this community. We are genuinely excited and gratified to see it moving forward.”