Chadwick School, an independent k-12 on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, broke ground this week on a new 6,000 square-foot facility that will ultimately serve as a center to boost creative and critical thinking — and focus on a wide array of disciplines, from STEM to arts and the humanities.

The new Center for Innovation and Research will include a trio of modern buildings and is set to open by spring 2020. It is the school’s first major construction project in 15 years.

The project will cost about $3.6 million, said Barbara Najar, Chadwick’s spokesperson.

The center’s three buildings, connected via an external balcony, will feature large roll-up glass doors on the first floor. The second floors will house more traditional classrooms and administrative offices.

The ground level will contain laboratories for robotics and other projects. The glass doors will allow students of all grade levels to view the labs and the projects inside.

The idea is to encourage mentorship and inspire creativity in all students, from kindergartners to high school seniors, Najar said.

“The center is designed to develop creative thinking, critical thinking and collaboration,” Najar said, adding the center is designed specifically for those “21st century skills.”

The 84 year-old private school will relocate one of its playgrounds to make space for a new facility, which will “focus on new opportunities for interdisciplinary research, STEM, creativity, collaboration, innovative thinking and entrepreneurship throughout the k-12 curriculum,” the school announced in a statement.

Besides the workspace for STEM projects — science, technology, engineering and math — the center will also focus on art, creativity and the humanities. It will feature a space for engineering, along with a metal shop and seminar rooms.

Chadwick brought on board Jamie Kennedy, a former electrical engineer, as the curriculum director for the Center for Innovation and Research. Kennedy said she believes it takes more than STEM to equip students for the future.

“(The objective is to) bring together various disciplines to tackle real world problems,” she said. “STEM is not the answer, you need humanities and art.

“It’s going to be a great space to just hang out,” she added, “be with peers and work on the same thing.”

A handful of current Chadwick students attended the groundbreaking on Wednesday, April 10, digging tiny shovels into the sand of their old playground. Trees removed to make way for the new building project will be used in the school’s woodworking class.

Interim Head of School Jeff Mercer, who has twin eighth-grade boys attending Chadwick, was also on hand at the ceremony.

“(The new center is) an opportunity for us to have a space to innovate and create, and help us serve our mission of independent thinkers and collaborators,” Mercer said. “We’re intentionally inter-disciplinary. We’re using any opportunity to get these students to pull from these different disciplines.”

Incoming Head of School Dal Sohi, who begins July 1, also attended the ceremony.

Some parents at the Chadwick groundbreaking were excited, especially, about STEM and the prospects of their children learning new skills.

“My background was in engineering,”  said Eden Warner, a parent with two Chadwick students. “Even if you’re not in engineering, STEM is important. It’s a valuable skill set and applicable in everyday life.”

Warner lives in Ladera Heights and did his homework when deciding where to send his daughter, Opal Warner, 10, and his son, Leshaun Warner, 15.

When the family first learned about plans for the new center, he said, he “jumped for joy.”

“I’ve been a big advocate of it,” Warner said. “The faculty and staff, especially the teachers, truly, truly, care about (the kids).”

Students were also buzzing about the new learning environment.

“It’s exciting to have somewhere new, it spices up the campus life and gives us somewhere new to explore,” said Austin Kim, 15, a ninth-grader. “I think this building is going to bring more kids into STEM.”

Funding for the Center for Innovation and Research came from a group of donors and some bond financing specially earmarked for improvement, according to Najar.

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