Work Continues on SPMS Old Gym Upgrade

A project at South Pasadena Middle School will transform the campus’ old gymnasium into a new black box theater, arts room, dance facility and STEM lab. Allison Anderson, the bond construction coordinator for the South Pasadena Unified School District, said her team is working hard to maintain the structure’s historic element.
Photo by Mitch Lehman / The Review

Workers busily placed a final coat of lacquer on the basketball courts at South Pasadena Middle School on Wednesday morning while just a few dozen yards away, a much more intricate improvement effort was underway.
It’s called the middle school old gym renovation project, and it involves much more than a couple layers of varnish.
“Basically, we are trying to build a new building inside an old building,” said Allison Anderson, bond construction coordinator for the South Pasadena Unified School District.
Scheduled for completion in November, the structure will feature a black box theater as well as an arts room, dance facility and STEM labs, according to Anderson. That’s quite an ambitious project for what used to be an antiquated gym and some locker rooms, an edifice whose job has been taken by the facility where those basketball courts were being touched up.
Many local residents, however, found the old structure to have historical value, which Anderson and her team are doing their best to acknowledge.
Anderson said research conducted by the district did not unearth any official historic relevance, but care nevertheless will be taken in maintaining the building’s iconic outer shell.
Black box theaters are traditionally square with black walls, as the name implies, and allow for an enhanced audience experience. Westridge School in Pasadena included a black box theater when its new performing arts facilities were upgraded in 2005.
SPMS’ new space, which will cost in the neighborhood of $11 million, can also be used for lectures and other performances. The improvements are all part of a $98 million construction bond — Measure SP — that voters passed in November 2016 by a margin of 3-1. Every site in the school district will benefit from the bond.
Construction at SPUSD sites was never interrupted even though classrooms were locked down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The district has already announced plans to begin the 2020-21 school year via distance learning.