Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a multi-part series about the new science complex at Crossroads School.

Lamenting a smudge of wet gray paint on his hand, Bob Riddle quickly realized he shouldn’t have grabbed the railing as he climbed an exterior flight of stairs on the building under construction at Crossroads School.

But the longtime educator and current principal wasn’t going to let such a minor annoyance dampen his spirits for long — not on a day when the sun was shining, a light breeze was blowing and crews were working on one of the most ambitious projects in the 44-year-history of the Santa Monica private school.

At the back of what the Crossroads community affectionately calls “the Alley” stands a $20-million, 25,000-square-foot Science Education & Research Facility that is scheduled for completion this summer.

The building will house the middle school and high school science programs, and campus officials envision it as a center for discovery, experimentation and collaboration, a place for students to grapple with complex problems in an era of innovation and rapid technological progress.

“The big question is, ‘Where is science moving?'” project manager Elaine Nesbit said during a walk-through of the unfinished building. “The idea was to build this for the future of teaching science, to make it as flexible and changeable as possible. Very few people know where science is headed. If you make a building that’s flexible, hopefully that will work.”

The complex, which was designed by Los Angeles-based Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects, features a dozen classrooms and laboratories as well as study spaces, prep and storage areas, a special projects pavilion and a science-focused outdoor garden. It is tracking towards LEED Gold sustainability certification.

The building can be seen from the Interstate 10 freeway and 20th Street, and the architects wanted it to stand out while simultaneously fitting in with the industrial feel of the surrounding area.

The polished, glass-paneled facade is oriented towards the highway, leaving a rougher collection of concrete and exterior staircases for the eyes of the students and teachers who will approach and occupy the structure on a daily basis.

“It reflects the duality of the nature of the campus itself,” Fisher said. “It’s turning the city inside-out and creating an informal back-of-house environment.”

Fisher’s firm was selected to design the Crossroads science building about three years ago. Its portfolio already included local projects like Annenberg Community Beach House, Bergamot Station, Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square as well as facilities at educational institutions across the country.

Construction of the science center at the local private school’s 21st Street campus, south of Olympic Boulevard, began in early 2014.

The space previously hosted two smaller buildings, including a storage facility for the school’s theater department. But soon, architect Joseph Coriaty said, the new structure will serve as an interactive show for the school community.

“The idea was to make it as open as possible to the rest of the campus,” he said. “It’s encouraging students to engage with the building. You’re curious about it.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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