McCarthy Wraps Discovery Building at Santa Monica High School

By Eric Althoff

SANTA MONICA, Calif.—General contracting firm McCarthy Building Companies has finished construction work on the new Discovery Building at Santa Monica High School. The three-story, 280,000-square-foot structure adds a host of new amenities to SAMOHI, as the school is referred to by locals.

As designed by HED and Moore Ruble Yudell, the $133 million building re-envisions SAMOHI’s North Campus. The architects collectively designed the facility as an “open building,” featuring an open-column grid, a raised floor and non-load-bearing walls; the design is meant to improve “circulation” throughout the campus.

In addition to its 43 classrooms, the Discovery Building features computer labs, indoor and outdoor dining options, an Olympic-size swimming pool, rooftop garden, as well as facilities for “medically fragile” students. Parking for 300 cars is also provided.

Furthermore, ample trees and landscaping design on the exterior provide shaded areas for outdoor study as well as meetings between students and teachers. The design also features outdoor classrooms such as the rooftop hydroponic garden and other science-oriented areas. Moveable glass walls can also be utilized to make the various learning spaces more flexible.

“I’m so proud that with all the challenges that came with continuing construction amid the pandemic that we were able to finish this project on time for the fall 2021 school year,” Nathan Huntley, senior project manager with McCarthy Building Companies, said in a statement emailed to School Construction News. “All the hard work and effort that we had put into bringing the new Discovery Building to life was worth it when we saw the excitement on all the students’ faces seeing their brand-new building on their first day of school on campus in over a year and a half.”

John Dale, principal with HED, added that his firm worked with faculty and students to more precisely design the learning spaces they needed—as well as how they should be arrayed.

“One of the things that brings this campus to life is the juxtaposition of body, mind and spirit in the Discovery Building,” Dale said. “This was designed using Open Building principles. It will be altered and changed and owned by different groups of people at different times and reflecting different needs.”

Added James Mary O’Connor, principal at Moore Ruble Yudell:

“Really good architecture has a learning moment. It’s an educational tool in itself. We weren’t looking for an iconic building and fixed image of something. It was much looser … we were interested in asking, how could the building itself grow?”

“The open concept of the building was to foster collaboration for the students and teachers,” added Huntley of McCarthy. “Since the school year started we can see that the elements of the building are really being used in that way—creating a comfortable learning environment for the SAMOHI community, which is very fulfilling for us as a project team.”

“For many buildings, the best day is opening day,” agreed O’Connor. “But the best day for the building will be ongoing … it will change and transform over time.”