As construction crews worked stories above in the towering beams, community members, district leaders and local students gathered Thursday at Santa Monica High School to celebrate the progress of its Discovery Building.

The clicks and clacks of hammers and drills rang throughout Thursday’s topping out ceremony, which offered attendees an opportunity to sign a steel beam that was later placed at the top of the structure. The event is a longtime tradition among builders and is usually held when the final beam is placed atop a structure during its construction.

With 100 tons of steel, 11,000 cubic yards of concrete and 100,000 man-hours already used to assemble the building, almost every speaker who took the podium Thursday noted how quick the project was progressing.

Before he shared a possible origin of topping out ceremonies, Project Manager Nate Huntley said, “It’s amazing what’s going on here,” and it’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of such a close knit community.

“We are in awe of the magnitude of the building and what it will offer so many in the Samohi school community,” principal Antonio Shelton added. “The excitement that this building has generated is contagious,” and it’s wonderful to know that in a few months — if not a year or so — students will begin to walk the halls of this learning space and enjoy a state-of-the-art learning atmosphere.

As attendees rushed to sign the white beam adorned by a small tree, some residents marveled at the building’s design and questioned engineers about the novel concepts that were integrated into the structure.

“The way it is built is designed around what we know, which is that education is changing,” said Carey Upton, SMMUSD’s Chief Operations Officer.

Upton went on to explain the structure is an open building concept that’s designed so officials can change and rearrange rooms and spaces to fit their needs.

“And this is going to give us a great opportunity to adjust and adapt this building over the 30, 40, 50, 100 years of its lifespan,” Upton said, describing how the $133 million building will feature classrooms, labs, indoor and outdoor dining facilities, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a suite for medically fragile students, a rooftop garden classroom and a parking garage for nearly 300 cars.

Before the final steel beam was hoisted hundreds of feet into the air with the project’s crane, which has amassed hundreds of followers on Instagram (, board President Jon Kean thanked those who helped the building come to fruition.

“But most of all,” he said, “we thank Santa Monica for believing in education.”