Remarkable Rebound for Fire-Ravaged NorCal High School Venue

By Eric Althoff

SANTA ROSA, Calif.—More than a half-decade after the horrendous Tubbs Fire destroyed many structures in Northern California’s wine country, one high school is celebrating new life for part of its campus that was destroyed in the blazes of 2017.

Designer Quattrocchi Kwok Architects (QKA) and general contractor GMH Builders have completed the Student Life Center at Cardinal Newman High School, which opened in time for the fall term. The center both replaces and expands upon the library and media center that burned down in 2017.

QKA’s design entails a two-story, 23,800-square-foot building that is meant to evoke the look and feel of a college student union. Inside, the Student Life Center is home to the new library and innovation center, which includes a cafeteria, faculty offices, student lounge, study areas and conference spaces. The center also features a digital media laboratory and recording studio. Classrooms are designed to be flexible with a variety of seating options.

The Student Life Center represents just one part of an overall master plan for Cardinal Newman High. QKA’s work is ongoing as far as reenvisioning more of the school in the wake of the fires. Previously completed restoration work at the campus includes the North Classroom Building in 2019 and a two-story classroom building in 2021.

“We are honored to be a trusted partner since Cardinal Newman began efforts to reconstruct its campus and plan for its future nearly five years ago,” QKA Principal John Dybczak said. “Working closely with GMH and [receiving] input from administration, faculty, students, and maintenance personnel, we designed the Student Life Center as the hub of campus.

“This next-generation facility furthers the school’s goal to provide supportive spaces beyond the classroom for students to study, socialize, refuel, and relax.”

A statement sent to School Construction News from personnel at GMH says the enthusiasm expressed by students, administrators and various other stakeholders helped ensure the project would come to fruition on time.

“Despite the challenges of working in such a central location, GMH Builders successfully kept pathways open and sequenced work to avoid any interruptions to the learning environment,” the statement said. “Despite record-breaking wet winters, we remained on schedule and delivered an exceptional project.”

“The Student Life Center is…enriched with tech- and collaboration-focused spaces to support learning and social connections,” added Cardinal Newman President Dr. Linda Norman. “We are grateful for the indomitable spirit of our school community, the generous support of our donors, and the invaluable guidance of our project partners as we mark this latest step forward in rebuilding what was lost and planning for the future.”

QKA’s portfolio entails more than $2.5 billion in projects in its nearly four decades in business. Engineering News-Record has called the firm one of the nation’s top designers.

GMB, based in Sonoma, offers services including construction management and general contracting services. Their various other California clients include NorthDay Healthcare, Bear Republic Brewery and the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.