SAN DIEGO — The face of St. Augustine High School has changed dramatically over the past decade.
A three-phase rebuilding project that began in 2006 has seen older classroom buildings razed, newer facilities constructed, and the remaining handful of older classrooms extensively renovated and repurposed.
With the exception of Vasey Hall, the historic heart of the school, the most prominent holdover from before the recent renovations has been Dougherty Gym, which dates back to 1951.
But, with the conclusion of the second phase of construction, the school community began the process of saying farewell to the venerable gym and welcoming its successor, St. Augustine Commons.
“Because our campus is seven and a half acres, we really had to be precise in what we wanted and make sure that we got all the function we could out of this [new] building,” Saints President Edwin Hearn said.
St. Augustine Commons is a 55,000-square-foot student activity center with four levels, including a sky deck with three rooftop basketball courts, a terrace, a foyer with a fireplace, and a below-ground gymnasium with a seating capacity of 1,500.
A bronze sculpture titled “St. Augustine the Teacher,” gifted to the school by the Saints Alumni Association and Saints Associated Student Body, stands in front of the new structure. It depicts the school’s namesake, dressed in the garb of a fifth-century Roman, addressing a contemporary Saints student.
St. Augustine Commons was dedicated during a Mass celebrated April 26. Approximately 1,000 guests joined the school’s 700 students, as well as its faculty, staff and volunteers, for the liturgy.
While acknowledging the physical changes that have taken place on campus, Hearn said the school’s leadership has been determined to preserve — and even enhance — those elements that are integral to the school’s identity.
“The things that I would say make Saints a very special place are the things that never change, and those are the matters of the heart, and of the intellect, and the total education of the person,” Hearn said, noting the school’s commitment to its core values of unitas [unity], veritas [truth] and caritas [love]. “As we’ve been going through all of this visual change, we have tried to enhance how we build community.”
As an example, he cited the warm and inviting atmosphere around the fireplace in St. Augustine Commons.
“We really spent a lot of time on [the question] ‘How does this building develop community even more than maybe was possible before?’” he said.
Principal James Horne shares those sentiments and is optimistic about the future.
“We are really excited about the building and the great new memories St. Augustine Commons will provide for Saintsmen and their families,” he said. “We look for the Commons to shape our sense of community, deepen the ways we impact the lives of Saintsmen, and create the opportunities to experience Christ in one another.”
The school broke ground on St. Augustine Commons on Oct. 31, 2015. Construction began on Nov. 6 and continued through early April of this year.
Hearn said that the third and final phase of construction, which could begin as soon as July, will see Dougherty Gym transformed into a performing arts center, complete with a 400-seat theatre and 2,000-square-foot music studio, as well as a 2,000-square-foot weight room.
The older gym, with a seating capacity of only 600, had proven too small for the school’s most heavily attended sporting events, Hearn said. And alumni functions were rarely held there, whereas two alumni events had already taken place in the new gym within a week of the dedication Mass.
Still, Hearn said, saying goodbye to Dougherty Gym has been bittersweet.
“It’s kind of been our home,” he said. “If we’ve had a family room at the school, it’s been Dougherty Gym. It’s really served the school well for its 65 years.”
The final school Mass in the old gym, celebrated April 5, was “an emotional moment” for the school and its alumni community, he said, but so too was the dedication Mass for the new building.
In his homily for the dedication, Augustinian Father Kevin Mullins remarked that the new structure is “so much more than just a building.”
“The Commons will be a place of gathering, a place of prayer, a place of learning, a place of athletic achievement,” said Father Mullins, provincial of the Augustinians in the West. “Simply put, St. Augustine Commons will be a place of both rightful pride and humble gratitude.”