Student Center Opens for Business and Leisure

In 2010, Tam High finished a $100 million renovation that modernized every part of the school from its classrooms to its athletic facilities, except for one: the Tam High Student Center.

Student Center Before Renovations
Student Center before

The Student Center was an unremarkable building tucked humbly between the state-of-the-art Caldwell Theater and the historic amphitheater. It was kind of dark, didn’t smell great, and had two long, conversationally-awkward rows of tables that students rarely used. In the back was a pile of folding tables, chairs, and other custodial stuff. But it was serviceable, so the bond money raised for the remodel went to the places where students learned and played, not the one where a scant few got their lunch.

Then, when the remodel was done, two Tam High Foundation members – Joyce Porter and Jen Nichols — decided that students deserved a place to congregate that measured up to the rest of the now-spectacular school. As Joyce put it, “We wanted to make the Student Center a place where students would actually come to eat, instead of huddling under the eaves of the other buildings.”

So they formed a committee of other like-minded parents, and they figured out how to get it done. First they hung out there, for hours, at all times of day, watching how students used it – which, as they’d suspected, was rarely and as briefly as possible. They looked at student centers at other high schools in Marin, both private and public, and several in the East Bay. They circulated a questionnaire to students and teachers asking what would make them use the student center more. Finally, with the help of architect John Hood, a Tam parent, they came up with a design that would revamp the interior and open it up to the outside, where what looked like an asphalt parking lot would be upgraded to an inviting plaza.

Today, the Student Center is exactly the welcoming gathering spot its designers wanted it to be. It gives students everything they asked for in terms of functionality: smaller tables where they can sit in groups, two large circles of comfortable leather chairs, a thirty-foot shelf along the back wall that’s perfect for working on laptops, more vending machines, two microwaves, a foosball table, and a water bottle filling station (the only one in the school).

And it looks fantastic. The walls are white, and the lighting is crisp. The floors are a muted gray with stenciled red and IMG_2598blue Tam “T”s. In the center is a modular, curved table designed by the Honors Architecture class of 2013 that can be separated into four sections and moved anywhere in the room. Twelve-foot high glass Nana doors let in natural light and fold open to make a doorway fifteen feet across, allowing people to flow easily onto the new plaza. On Back to School Night hundreds of parents did just that, enjoying the space so much that many of them were late to first period.

How do Tam students like it? That’s best seen by how they use it. On a recent Thursday morning an AP Literature class spent nearly an hour in the leather chairs, working on a group project. AIM classes can often be found there too, as can students from the nearby Drama department. During lunch the room swirls with students playing foosball, lounging in the chairs, eating lunch at the tables, and hanging out in the plaza. Senior Laird Grant sums it up when he says, “Before, it was grimy and dark and filled with custodial stuff. It wasn’t anywhere you’d want to be. But now, it’s great. I love that you can go in and out, and I love hanging out in here.”

IMG_3358Tony Catrino, who supervised the project for the district, underscores the importance of the successful renovation to the Tam community. Vibrant student centers, he explains, are a significant feature of any successful high school. “Classrooms and athletic fields may be more noticeable, but it’s also important to have beautiful and inviting areas where students can feel comfortable and safe.” Tam’s is an exceptional example, “a multiuse, multifunctional space where eating, meeting and teaching can take place. It’s much more than just a lunch plaza.”

It remains, to some extent, a work in progress. Soon, the committee hopes, there will be murals painted by art students, rotating displays of ceramics, and a student-run recycling program. It’s also not fully paid for, as the Foundation still owes the district about $30,000. But the Brick Campaign is ongoing, with numerous present and former students’ names already etched on the plaza, and there are enough bricks to sustain the Campaign for at least eight more years. If you’d like to help support the Foundation’s Student Center improvements both past and future, you can buy one at the Foundation’s website:


The Foundation thanks everyone who helped make this project a success, including renovation committee members Joyce Porter, Jen Nichols, Eve Wirth, Jody and Shane Kennedy, John Hood, Gwen Hubbard, and Stephanie Dorfman, as well as Tony Catrino and Cindy Macauley at the district and Brian Lynch and the rest of the Tam administration.

Thanks also go to our contractors and suppliers, including Hennessy Construction, McCarthy Painting, Rich Dowd, Concrete Solutions, Nana Doors, Quick Crete, Clark Civil Engineering, TSA Structural Engineers, PHd Architects, and Van Pelt Construction Services.

And, of course, to Geo Monley and his Honors Architecture Class of 2013.

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