Portola High groundbreaking celebrated as a testament to collaboration, perseverance


In less than two years, a state-of-the-art high school is expected to occupy this vast stretch of undeveloped land south of Irvine Boulevard. There will be classrooms, a 720-seat theater, a gymnasium, a building to house elective courses, and the kind of student center you might find on a college campus.

But IUSD school board President Sharon Wallin sees more than the promise of new facilities. She sees memories waiting to be made.

“I see pep rallies, homecoming dances, basketball games,” said Wallin, flanked by blue and white balloons. “I see band performances, spring musicals and campus clubs. I see the first encounters between students, and the lifelong friendships being made. That to me is what this project is all about.”

Portola High groundbreaking 3Joined by local dignitaries and community members, IUSD ceremoniously broke ground on Portola High School Thursday afternoon, marking the start of construction on the district’s fifth comprehensive high school after years of diligent planning, collaborative negotiations and rigorous environmental reviews. The event was held just three weeks after a groundbreaking celebration for the similarly named Portola Springs Elementary School.

“You know, they say that the best things in life don’t come easy,” Superintendent Terry Walker said during his introductory remarks. “So if that is true, then I have no doubt that this high school is going to be the greatest high school in the world.”

Along with Wallin and Walker, ceremony speakers included state Assemblyman Don Wagner, Irvine Company Senior Vice President Mike LeBlanc, FivePoint Communities Executive Vice President Lynn Jochim, Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway and representatives from the offices of Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer and state Senator Mimi Walters.

Portola High groundbreakingFEATUREDIUSD Board of Education members Paul Bokota, Lauren Brooks, Ira Glasky and Michael Parham were also on hand, as was former trustee Dr. Gavin Huntley-Fenner. And the Northwood High School band, led by music teachers Ben Case and Whitney Tavlarides, cheerfully loaned school spirit to the ceremony with a setlist of contemporary songs, including Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. Both were fitting.

Naturally, there were photos to commemorate the occasion, featuring board members, staff and others breaking ground with shiny silver shovels near what will become home plate on Portola High’s future baseball diamond. (“So all kinds of references to hitting home runs would be very relevant to today’s events,” noted Walker.) But first it was time to acknowledge the moment’s significance — and to recognize those responsible for getting Portola High to this point.

“The story of this school, like most of the great stories, is one about people,” Walker said, “and in this case their selfless dedication to serving our students and this community.”

“The people responsible for making this school a reality … embody the same characteristics we aspire to cultivate in our students — courage and resilience and perseverance and grit, as well as thoughtful planning,” the superintendent said.

Portola High groundbreaking 2Indeed, planning had been long underway before IUSD and its developer partners reached agreement on the school’s location in 2011, kicking off an exhaustive evaluation and testing process that culminated with approvals from the California Department of Education and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. In May, the Board of Education passed a resolution formally selecting the more-than-40-acre site along Irvine Boulevard and west of Alton Parkway, and the school was given a name nine days before Thursday’s ceremony. Portola High School, designed by HMC Architects, is now set to open in August 2016 with an inaugural class of freshman students.

“Here’s an understatement for you: This is a big day for our school district,” board President Wallin said, drawing an enthusiastic round of applause.

“Though our groundbreaking ceremonies traditionally mark the beginning of construction, our district’s vision is long-term,” she said. “Our commitment extends to many generations who will go on to shape this campus and establish its own identity, ensuring that Portola High is indeed synonymous with all that’s great in Irvine.”

Photos by IUSD Webmaster Shane Cline