When Dean Chien started as a freshman at Santa Monica High School three years ago, plans were already in motion for the Santa Monica-Malibu school district to construct a new science and technology building on campus.

But the finished product still made a powerful impression on Chien, who is now a senior and the school’s student body president.

Chien donned a suit and tie and wielded oversized scissors last month when district and city officials hosted a ribbon-cutting celebration to signify the grand opening of the so-called Innovation Building, a $55-million project that welcomed students at the start of the 2015-2016 school year.

“It’s quite amazing to have that structure,” Chien said.

Chien and his peers, as well as future Samohi students, stand to benefit from the new 3-story facility, which has 15 science labs as well as 17 classrooms for math, English, social studies and language courses. The building also features eight prep rooms, a computer lab, an auto shop, storage space and six administrative offices.

A quad and an atrium with drought-friendly plants, student lockers and benches were also constructed.

The project was funded through Measure BB, a $268-million bond for school improvements that voters passed in 2006.

The completion of the building comes at a time of increasing emphasis on education in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) as public officials, business executives and academic leaders envision a future in which skills in those subjects are crucial for job prospects and economic growth.

“The opening of this new building will provide unique learning opportunities for all students who pass through our doors,” Superintendent Sandra Lyon said. “Classes in science, technology, engineering and math offer important college and career pathways and we are pleased that SMMUSD students now have facilities and tools to excel in these fields.”

The creation of the new Samohi building coincided with the development of a $20-million, 25,000-square-foot science and research facility at Crossroads School, which features lab stations and experiment spaces as well as a special projects pavilion.

Construction started on the Innovation Building at Samohi in late 2011, but the completion of the project was delayed due to the site’s proximity to existing power lines, which created accessibility issues, according to a 2014 district newsletter. The rerouting of utility lines and changes to the ventilation plans also held up the project, according to the newsletter.

The local Board of Education recently approved payments to Irvine-based Sundt Construction Inc., which spearheaded the project through a lease-leaseback contract.

The school board had previously approved a contract with San Diego-based Arey Jones Educational Solutions for $944,00 in computer equipment for the building. The Measure BB money covered 752 student laptops, 39 teacher laptops and 11 computer storage carts as technological upgrades continue to roll out across the district.

Each classroom was set to receive one teacher laptop and eight student laptops, according to an SMMUSD report. Science classrooms were expected to host 16 laptops.

In April, the school board approved about $151,000 in Measure BB money to pay VWR International for science equipment in the building, including appliances for the new labs, prep spaces and tech rooms.

The new building’s furniture was tested and chosen with input from students and teachers.

jeff@smdp.com

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