San Benito High School opened its doors for a public tour on April 1, when about 40 people showed up for the Saturday showing of the high school’s ongoing facelift. What they saw was the more than century-old campus transitioning to a major high school with the capacity for as many as 3,500 students.
Shawn Tennenbaum, San Benito’s human resources director and interim superintendent, took a group through the main campus pointing out changes that have been made or are currently in the works. Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and San Benito County Supervisors Jaime De la Cruz and Robert Rivas also attended the tour.
"Today San Benito High School has about 2,900 students," Tennenbaum (seen in pink shirt in photo on left) told the group.
“What’s your plan with the new growth coming in?” one of the parents asked.
Tennebaum said the high school district is capable of holding 3,500 students and plans are already being made for a student body of 3,200 to 3,300.
“We are using the bond money to accommodate the growth coming,” Tennenbaum said, referencing voter-approved measures approved in recent years. “We think we may be looking at a third bond down the line,” he said.
Heading out across the campus, Tennebaum mentioned that air conditioning had been put in past year. Next will be new cost-saving lights, a smart heating system, LCD projectors and electric doors in some locations. These are expected to be installed during the summer.
Tennenbaum, who spent 20 years working in special education prior to transitioning to administration, explained that changes are coming to the SPED program, too. “The special ed group is growing faster than the general student population,” Tennenbaum said. He explained that was partly because students with learning difficulties are being identified sooner. The reconfigured special edduction classrooms will be laid out differently, for a more flexible teaching style that will include cooking and more hands-on learning.
The existing swimming pool will be filled in, opening up space for a new cross-campus corridor and providing easier movement between the north and south sides of campus. Following an agreement with the city and county, Nash Road will be closed for traffic from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. except for special events.
A dozen new classrooms are planned for the area across from the existing swimming pool on Nash Road. “It will be very 21st Century, with flex furniture like mobile desks, mobile chairs, working bars like at an Apple store or a working wall you can stand at,” Tennenbaum said.
One of the big “wow” moments for the crowd was seeing the new tennis courts. Aurelio Zuniga, a Class of 1960 San Benito High graduate, was awestruck as he walked across the huge expanse of freshly-painted court surface. “Sure is nice to see all the change,” he said. Tennebaum told the group that he is hopeful agreements can be worked out with Hollister so the courts would be available to the public in the evenings.
“It is beautiful in here,” said another guest as they crossed the courts. “I go by all the time but I never could really see it. This is awesome,” she said.
Tennebaum explained that the courts have been designed for a higher-level player than just high school use. “We could have masters programs and the courts are really designed for larger events, “ he said.
A new alternate route will be built around the outer edge of the new campus, going from Nash Road, sweeping out around the new buildings and sports facilities and connecting to San Benito Street just beyond the existing stadium.
Tennebaum said there are also plans under discussion for a county regional park. He said there is hope it will contain more sports facilities like a large ballpark and an aquatic center.
Hollister for Aquatics Foundation Treasurer and COO, Jud Shutts (in photo on left) was prepared to explain more about the ambitious project. Shutts is actively involved with the planning and presentation of a public/private partnership aquatic park. He went over the design with the group., telling them, “The school is 100 percent behind it.”
Shutts says the existing proposal for the aquatic park would allow for pool use by the public even during school hours. The estimated cost is $8 million for two pools and another $8 million for the other recreational elements in the plan.
Mayor Velazquez took a minute to address the group, asking “How do we partner and bring in more people? “ Velazquez told listeners that big tennis events could potentially bring in tourism, benefiting hotels, restaurants and local stores.
Pascal Najem, the construction manager for the San Benito High School project, was also there for the campus stroll. He represents Aedis, the San Jose-based architectural company taking on the project. He has been with the San Jose firm for eight years but said about San Benito County, “I liked it so much, I bought a house here,” he said.
A regional park, mentioned several times throughout the day, is still in the dream stages. Tennenbaun said it could be built on the south end of the new bypass road, toward San Benito River. This would be out beyond the planned math and science building and the new synthetic athletic fields. The park would potentially have a large county parking lot that could be used by the school district and the also possible river parkway.
The tour ended with a visit to the recently-completed wrestling and weight rooms. Clearly proud of the work already completed, Tennebaum let Velazquez close-out the tour. Velazquez pleaded with the group to be vocal about their support and take an active part in the many projects still ahead. Another similar tour is scheduled for June.