At Monday evening’s ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Barth Athletics Complex at Huntington Middle School, Alex Cherniss recalled a conversation he allegedly had three years ago with Andy Barth, shortly after Cherniss had been named superintendent of the San Marino Unified School District.
“Andy and I sat in his back yard and talked all about the school district, it’s history, it’s strengths and some of it’s challenges,” Cherniss said, with the grin of a Cheshire cat. “Before our meeting concluded, Andy said something to me, somewhat cryptic, in the way Andy does. He whispered something like, ‘If you build it, I will help.’”
Since most in the audience were well acquainted with Barth, the line got the anticipated laugh, but Cherniss wasn’t through with the ‘Field of Dreams’ reference.
“It took me some time to figure out what that exactly meant,” Cherniss said. “As I continued to meet with the community, teachers, the PTAs and parents of current and past students, it became clear that the one goal everyone had in common was to build a gym at Huntington Middle School. And so this lead to another meeting with Andy, months later, when I shared with him the dream of building a gym at Huntington Middle School. That’s when I heard the words again, to the effect of, ‘If you build it, I will help.’ Now I got it.”
So did everyone else, as all six members of the Barth Family on the dais chuckled on cue.
“It’s been three years in the making, and now we are here today, because of the vision and support of Andy and Avery Barth,” Cherniss continued. “The Barth Athletics Complex is going to be built because of the ‘help’ of the Barths. Please join us in thanking Andy and Avery Barth.”
Any reservations that may have existed among the 200 or so in attendance quickly subsided as the first of many standing ovations erupted for the family that has taken the lead for the $14 million project.
Last year, the Barths pledged $3.5 million for the project. This past February, the family kicked in an additional $2 million in debt service over the first four years of a certificate of participation agreement entered into by the SMUSD to help fund the new athletics complex.
Tim and Lisa Sloan pledged funds for the naming rights of the fitness center for $500,000 and the Barger Family, likewise, has pledged $250,000 to have naming rights of the multi-purpose room.
Other contributors include a $100,000 donation from Calvin Lo and his wife, Wendy Hsu, for one of the two media classrooms; $100,000 from Paul and Alice Su for the second media arts classroom; a $50,000 donation from the family of Valerie and Aaron Weiss; $25,000 from Pat Haden via The Fletcher Jones Foundation; $50,000 from the William Hurt Foundation, and $10,000 from the Chinese Club of San Marino.
Stacks of roof tiles lay scattered about the Huntington Middle School parking lot in testimony to the project that has already begun, with hopes of being completed by July, 2019. The complex will include a new gymnasium, a fitness room, boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, multi-purpose room, two media classrooms as well as a new track and field component.
“I thought it went really nicely,” Andy Barth told The Tribune. “What came through this afternoon is that everyone is so happy this is getting done. There is a real sense that everyone is excited this project is moving forward after 20 years in the making.”
Barth said the lack of a functional gym “is the glaring omission, the missing piece of the community.”
“It’s been the big gap and an ongoing need,” he said. “We are so happy that we are able to help make this happen. The leadership and the vision of the school board and the assistance from all of the people in the community have been crucial to this project. As a family, we are grateful and thankful we have the ability to participate in making this finally happen.”
Speaking on behalf of her family, Kathryn Barger – Los Angeles County 5th District Supervisor – recalled attending Huntington Middle School along with Avery Barth and “running around in those red shorts.”
“I have so many fond memories of this place,” Barger said. “This place kept us out of trouble. It is an honor to stand here with Avery and invest in the community and it’s an honor for the Bargers to participate in this project.”
Paul Su, a San Marino High School graduate and “former wrestler” – which is as inaccurate as saying “former Marine” – donated to the project along with his wife, Alice.
“Paul shared with me that his wrestling venue was none other than the high school cafeteria,” said Cherniss. “So the Barger Athletic Room will be quite an upgrade from what Paul experienced.”
And with that, it was off to photo time, featuring matching red hardhats and pristine shovels. Snacks included cookies that had been decorated with the image of the Barth Athletics Complex, the lot of which lasted about ten minutes. Nothing compared to the legacy of the structure itself, which will serve the community for decades.