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LEFT: Participating in the groundbreaking ceremony from left to right is Very Rev. Rafael Partida, Episcopal Vicar of the Riverside Pastoral Region; Sr. Leticia Salazar, ODN, Chancellor of the Diocese; Bill and Janice Lemann; Leticia Casas (Treasurer) and Lynn Valbuena (Chairperson) from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians; Dr. Chris Barrows, Aquinas High School President; Dan O’Melveny, Executive Director for the Shea Family Foundation; and Dr. John Steinmann. TOP LEFT: Aquinas students pose with shovels. TOP RIGHT: Deacon Antonio Mejico blesses the ground where the new buildings are to be built. BOTTOM RIGHT: An artist’s rendering shows what the new buildings will look like.

SAN BERNARDINO—Aquinas High School, San Bernardino, broke ground on two new state-of-the-art classroom buildings (one for engineering and robotics and one for visual and digital arts) on Aug. 23 to keep up with the school’s continued growth in enrollment and innovative teaching practices.

The building project is fully funded through donations from the J.F Shea Foundation, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Steinmann family and the Lemann family. All funds needed for the $3.3 million-dollar project have been raised as well as the establishment of a $500,000 endowment. The buildings are slated to be ready for use in the 2023-2024 school year.

“It’s only fair and just to our students that they’ll have a facility that offers the most state-of-the-art equipment and opportunities for them to continue to grow and learn and become such wonderful young men and women,” said Aquinas President Chris Barrows during the groundbreaking ceremony.

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Vice Chairman Johnny Hernandez said it is an honor to partner with other organizations to provide resources and opportunities for students to chart new career paths.

“Jobs and technology are constantly evolving and preparing the students who live right here in the Inland Empire with tools to be competitive in the jobs market is key,” said Hernandez. “Every student should have access to their dream career, and these new state-of-the-art buildings will inspire kids to dream big.”

The 1,500 square foot Janice Lemann Center for the Visual and Digital Arts will house some of Aquinas’ most creative students indoors while a 1,000 square foot outdoor space will be attached as an area to expand the learning space into the natural environment.

Bill Lemann, diocesan attorney and benefactor, said it was his wife Janice’s dream to take part in such a project. He said she believed visual art to be fundamental to our human and heavenly experiences.

“It has been Janice’s dream to develop a Center for Visual Arts which will support our youth as they mature in an environment which will prepare them to lead the way,” said Bill Lemann. “Her dream is coming true at Aquinas, with modern Visual Arts Academy facilities and resources which will help our students understand their history, their culture, their lives, all creating a shared indelible experience with teachers and fellow students in ways that cannot be achieved through any other means.”

The 1,500 square foot Steinmann Building will be the new home of the Aquinas Engineering Academy and the Aquinas Robotics team. The main classroom will provide open space filled with state-of-the-art equipment and technology to allow students to see engineering and robotics projects from the design phase through fabrication and production. This space will be joined with an additional classroom space used for math courses.

Students say that the two buildings are much needed. “With the creation of this new building, we can work on projects that were previously impossible, such as mechatronic engineering and large-scale robotics. It also will create more space for larger equipment, such as wood-cutting machines and laser cutters,” said senior Diego Sainos, a member of the Aquinas Engineering Academy. He added that the larger workspace will allow more students to join the Engineering Academy, as currently the small workspace sets limits participation.

Peyton McFaul, a senior in the Visual Arts Academy, recalled a visit from Janice Lemann to the Aquinas art classrooms. “I remember Janice just saying ... the Art Academy needs so much more, just so artists like me and like Janice where we can grow and get an opportunity to go into the art industry in the future,” said McFaul. “And so, I am extremely grateful that these donors are here to help make that happen.”

The buildings will be constructed just east of Reisch Stadium. Each of these two buildings will, from the outside, appear as mirror images of each other, full of glass walls and the ability to have indoor/outdoor learning spaces. A breezeway will separate the two spaces that allows student work to be displayed through floor to ceiling glass walls; the breezeway will also act as the new official entrance to Reisch Stadium.
Barrows reflected on the journey of improvement that Aquinas High School has been through over the last two decades. In the early 2000s, Aquinas was beset with low enrollment and a dilapidated campus, he recalled.

Today, Aquinas has over 600 students enrolled, with some students on a waiting list, a very well-kept and beautiful campus, and of course new projects such as these two buildings underway. “It’s a testament to the entire Aquinas community, and not just the community of people who have gone to school here or worked here, it’s the entire community of San Bernardino, and that’s what makes it so special,” said Barrows.

In 2018, Aquinas opened the 16,000 square foot San Manuel Performing Arts Center on campus, funded by the Tribe and the J.F. Shea Foundation.