EDUCATION: Expansion completed at Hemet High

BY KEVIN PEARSON

STAFF WRITER

kpearson@pe.com

Published: 18 August 2012 06:30 PM


Sitting in his classroom a few days before school was about to begin, Hemet High School teacher Rod Kemp had country music playing over the built-in speakers in the ceiling and was still in the decorating stages of prepping his room.

After 26 years, Kemp finally has a permanent place to call his own.

The longtime teacher this summer moved into one of 41 new classrooms that was part of Hemet High’s modernization efforts that were paid for with $62.3 million of voter-approved bond money. Built in 1970, the current Hemet High campus has always relied on portable buildings for about half of its classrooms.

But thanks to the improvements that have been years in the making, hundreds of students will arrive for the first day of class Monday, Aug. 20, when half the campus will be new buildings that have teachers, administrators and district officials beaming with pride.

“I’ve never had anything like this,” Kemp said. “To step into something like this after 32 years of teaching is amazing. It’s incredible. They did it right.”

The improvements are the final stage of a massive overhaul of the campus that included a new administration building, new athletic complex, classrooms and theater. The construction is being paid for with money from the 2006 Measure T bond that also helped build Tahquitz High School and improve other sites.

With the improvements, Hemet High added more than 47,000 square feet to its permanent facilities.

On Thursday, Principal Emily Shaw and school board president Bill Sanborn offered a tour of the campus's sparkling new digs, including a $9 million, 500-seat theater that instantly became one of the nicer performance venues in the San Jacinto Valley.

Shaw, entering her third year, helped select nearly every detail of the interior designs, something she called “a 40-year decision.”

The new theater replaces a worn-out 200-seat facility that was in the heart of campus. The new venue features a stage that can be removed to expose an orchestra pit, inside-and-outside scene shops and an adjacent black-box theater that can double as a classroom.

Near the theater, 40 new classrooms in a two-story building are designed to replace the dozens of portable classrooms that were dilapidated. Sanborn joked that if a student sneezed, some would fall apart, and he told a story of actually pushing his finger through a wall.

“Hemet High was like the ugly stepsister that no one invited to the prom,” Sanborn said. “It’s not like that anymore. It’s (actress) Anne Hathaway now.”

Five portable classrooms remain: One for extremely emotionally disturbed students, one for custodial storage and three for the ROTC program.

The new classrooms feature state-of-the-art science labs and many include new furniture, including stools that Shaw insisted were “Bulldog red” to add a personal touch.

Classrooms for special education students feature private restrooms and kitchens that are shared between adjoining classrooms. There is a sensory room with stuffed animals and beanbag chairs for when autistic students need private time.

There are small touches throughout the modernization that Shaw is proud of, from the new technology in each classroom to ways that the school’s past was incorporated into construction, including a sundial gifted by the class of 1949 that is once again prominently displayed on campus.

Last week, she shared a story from one of the many students who have already seen the improved campus. The student, Shaw said, promised to never take a sick day because he was so excited to be in the new classrooms. It was a moment that left Shaw with a smile.

“My kids are happier now,” she said. “It’s a whole new life, a whole new sense of pride.”

Follow Kevin Pearson on Twitter @pe_kevinpearson or online at blog.pe.com/Hemet

NAME THE THEATER

The Hemet Unified School District is asking for public input to select a name for the new Hemet High School theater. The public may submit recommendations to the district by Aug. 31


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