Buildings get rapid renovation on Milken campus


Summer’s dog days ordinarily bring quiet and serenity to one of Los Angeles’ flagship Jewish institutions — Milken Community Schools. But with hordes of hardhats replacing milling students on campus, this is no ordinary summer, as $6.2 million in renovations to the Guerin Family Institute for Advanced Science and the Architecture and Design Institute are in full swing. 

One of the largest Jewish day schools in the United States, Milken Community Schools, located in the Sepulveda Pass, comprises two major building complexes — the Saperstein Middle School campus and the Upper School Campus for high school students. This summer’s project is revamping the 80,000-square-foot Upper School Campus, affecting approximately 10,000 square feet of the most visible parts of the campus. 

It is the first of two planned phases of construction. The second will take one year to complete and is tentatively scheduled to begin in the summer of 2017.

The project was planned and designed by Lehrer Architects, whose offices in Silver Lake display a detailed 12-foot model of the Milken plan. Founding architect Michael Lehrer is overseeing construction by Torrance-based Del Amo Construction. When he was presented with the opportunity to tackle the Milken project, Lehrer said, he could barely contain his excitement. 

“I had to pinch myself over being involved with such an iconic institution,” Lehrer said in an interview. “More people drive by it than almost anywhere else, whether they notice it or not. I’ve been aware of it visually for over 25 years, always thinking how nice it would be to mine the place for the beauty it has. It’s miraculous to me that we’re doing it now. It’ll be a magnificent place to study, to
teach, to visit, just to even know about. That’s the hope.”

Construction at Milken broke ground on May 23, with plans for a completion date of Aug. 13, in time for the start of the new school year. Milken’s academic schedule drove the compact construction plan, allowing just 12 weeks to complete the renovation and expansion during summer break. The first several weeks saw grueling 24-hour workdays on site. The schedule has since “eased” to a breakneck pace. Work is being done in two to three shifts, six days a week, with no room for error. 

According to Lehrer, the accelerated timeline, though challenging, presents a unique opportunity to see change happen quickly. 

“Given the amount of work and complexity involved, this sort of schedule is really unusual. It’s unusually exciting, too. It’s rare that so much transformative work is done in such a short time. You see the change happening almost in real time, like watching a movie. Students who left for summer won’t know what hit them,” he said. 

Lehrer and architect Nerin Kadribegovic, a principal member of Lehrer Architects, thought the original buildings — erected in the 1990s — were largely closed off from surroundings and campus life, cutting out views and connections to rarely used terraces overlooking Sepulveda Boulevard. In designing the new buildings, Lehrer sought to help realize Milken’s “potential as a beautiful hillside campus.” 

The addition of large, movable glass walls will provide views of the landscape and access to terraces, connecting the two institutes back to the campus. New skylights and windows replacing solid walls will bathe spaces with natural light, nearly eliminating the need for artificial lighting. Vast amounts of concrete were removed to make way for new outdoor spaces. 

A rendering of the Global Classroom at the Guerin Family Institute for Advanced Science at Milken. A grand reopening and dedication will take place Sept. 18.

Both buildings will also be Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) gold certified, the top rating given by non-profit U.S. Green Building Council in its evaluation system aiming to assist building owners with environmental responsibility and efficient use of resources. 

When students return to the campus this fall, they will be the first high schoolers in the nation with access to a facility bearing the name of MIT’s Fab Lab — their very own Guerin Institute. In the nearby Architecture and Design Institute, they will be able to make use of cutting-edge equipment, like industrial 3-D printers, the likes of which Gary Weisserman, who is in his fourth year as head of school at Milken Community Schools, says companies like Honda and Ford might use. 

“We have reached a point where our students have the same sort of facilities and professional opportunities that they’d have access to in the field,” Weisserman said. “This will give kids access to professional-level tools and resources. It’s something I’m really thrilled about.” 

Michele Rosenfeld, a party planner with two children at Milken, currently serves as president of the Milken Parent Association. Her son, Jake, is entering his senior year and her daughter, Lindsey, is an incoming freshman. Though she concedes that neither of her children is heavily involved in the main disciplinary focuses of the institutes, she believes all students benefit from an improved campus. 

“I think it’s a great idea. I think the school needed to be updated,” she said. “The parents are excited. The students who are involved in those programs are excited. Even kids like mine who aren’t as involved are really excited for the socializing part and to have new places to hang out.” 

A grand reopening and dedication ceremony for the Guerin Institute for Advanced Science and the Architecture and Design Institute is scheduled for Sept. 18. 

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