$7.5M Science Center Slated for Sage

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Sage Hill Head of School Gordon McNeill (right) and Dr. Mihir Worah discuss the new $7.5 million science center planned for the school as McNeill points out features on an artist rendering of the center displayed at the announcement event on Tuesday. — Photo by Charles Weinberg
Sage Hill Head of School Gordon McNeill (right) and Dr. Mihir Worah discuss the new $7.5 million science center planned for the school as McNeill points out features on an artist rendering of the center displayed at the announcement event on Tuesday. — Photo by Charles Weinberg

Sage Hill School hopes to change how Orange County students feel about science.

The school held a special preview event on Tuesday and announced a campaign to build a state-of-the-art $7.5 million science center. They have raised $3.75 million so far. School officials hope to break ground by June and open the science center doors in the fall semester of 2014.

“This is the culmination of four to five years of planning and thinking,” said Sage Hill Head of School Gordon McNeill.

The new science center will feature prominent windows, garage doors that open to the outside, an outdoor classroom setting, open wet and dry lab areas, team zones, dedicated classrooms, teacher preparation rooms, research center, and flexible learning space.

“It’s about always being on the front-end of innovation, making sure that we’re current and we’re doing things that inspire kids,” that motivate them to get excited about science, McNeill said. “It’s what’s missing from education in America, we plan on doing it the right way.”

He got emotional when he spoke to the crowd later on in the evening, emphasizing that the science center is “much more than just bricks and mortar,” it’s about motivating, inspiring, and realizing a dream and giving kids the opportunity to go for it, he said.

“I have four young kids myself and I’m not with them tonight,” McNeill said with emotion. “I made a commitment to do this because it’s going to impact not only my kids, but all of Orange County. It’s a huge deal.”

Dr. Mihir Worah, managing director of the asset management firm Pimco, and an expert commentator for CNN, MSNBC, and Wall Street Journal, agreed. Science is underappreciated in the United States, and Orange County in particular, he said.

One of the artist renderings of the planned science center.
One of the artist renderings of the planned science center.

“What Sage is doing, getting kids excited about science, is fantastic,” he added.

Worah is also on the newly formed Sage Hill Science Center Advisory Team, made up of prominent scientists and educators, whose mission to provide “strategic counsel and guiding the development of new science-based community-interactive programs.”

The team also includes Dr. Peter Donovan, director of Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UCI and one of the world’s foremost stem cell research experts, and Dr. Edward Thorp, prominent math professor, pioneer in modern applications of probability theory, hedge fund manager, and New York Times best-selling author of “Beat the Dealer.”

“We are getting ready to realize another dream come true,” said Vicki Booth, chair of the board of trustees, when she spoke to the crowd Tuesday night.

The long process behind building the new science center has been thoughtful, respectful and responsible, Booth said.

She thanked the Sage Hill science faculty, Steinberg Architects, donors and supporters, board trustees, as well as the Argyros family, who were in attendance, including former U.S. Ambassador to Spain George Argyros, his wife, Julia, their daughter Lisa and family.

(left to right) Sage Hill Head of School Gordon McNeill, board of trustees chair Vicki Booth, and supporters Julia and George Argyros. — Photo by Charles Weinberg
(left to right) Sage Hill Head of School Gordon McNeill, board of trustees chair Vicki Booth, and supporters Julia and George Argyros. — Photo by Charles Weinberg

Also on hand for Tuesday night’s event was guest lecturer Dr. Arthur Lander, professor of developmental and cell biology and biomedical engineering at University of California, Irvine, and director of the Center for Complex Biological Systems. Lander spoke after the announcement as part of Sage Hill’s Science Lecture Series.

The lecture series, which is open to the public, is one example of how the school reaches out to the community, McNeill said.

The science center is another opportunity to have an impact in the community, he added.

“The excitement is that the design not only helps us with individual courses with dedicated space, but it also gives us the flexibility to open it up when we have 200 students from El Sol Academy or [Edward B Cole Sr. Academy],” on campus for service projects, McNeill said.

It also gives Sage students to reach out and figure out what’s going on with the next level of science. They can do their own long-term research projects, as well as build on or establish relationships with organizations like University of California, Irvine, or Edward Lifesciences.

Students will be able to monitor their projects over a long period of time without interfering with the day-to-day activity of other classes, explained Dr. Todd Haney, science department chair.

The new facilities will enhance the overall experience for each class, Haney said, and better engage each individual student.

“We started really enhancing our program four or five years ago, knowing this was coming,” McNeill said.

The science building was one of the first items on his desk when he took the helm four and half years ago, he said.

Sage supporters enjoyed the Sapphire catered event on Tuesday. — Photo by Charles Weinberg
Sage supporters enjoyed the Sapphire catered event on Tuesday.

“The fact of the matter was, is that we had outgrown our space,” he said. “While the science curriculum and what we have been able to accomplish down there has been unbelievable, there is so much more we could be doing.”

The portables have served Sage well, McNeill said, but they were always intended as a temporary space, not for permanent use.

Parent Elizabeth O’Brien said her freshman son, Christopher, is really looking forward to working in the new science center.

“He’s very excited,” O’Brien said, for biology in particular, she added.

For such a new school, Sage has so many opportunities for each individual student. They strive to inspire the students, she said, and the center is a good example for that.

That’s what it’s all about, both Worah and McNeill agreed.

Head of School Gordon McNeill addressed the student body on Thursday and unveiled the campaign sign with the architects' renderings of the center. — Photo by Rick Davitt
Head of School Gordon McNeill addressed the student body on Thursday and unveiled the campaign sign with the architects’ renderings of the center. — Photo by Rick Davitt

“To me, the big deal about the science center is to get kids excited and passionate about science,” said Worah, whose son, Parthiv, is a sophomore at Sage.

Even though his son may or may not get to use the center, Worah said it’s about more than that.

“It’s not just for Sage kids, it’s for the community,” said Worah.

“A science education is a springboard into anything you want to do,” continued Worah, a particle physicist who has colleagues with science backgrounds that are now photographers, writers, TV consultants, and business executives.

“The science center is the last missing piece in making a good school a great school,” he added.

Sage has small classes, great teachers and programs, and individual attention for the students, which O’Brien said adds up to an outstanding education.

“What Sage has been able to accomplish in just over 10 years is pretty phenomenal,” O’Brien said.

An artist rendering of the planned science center at Sage Hill School.
An artist rendering of the planned science center at Sage Hill School.
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