On Sunday, the community got to see The Springfield Center for Innovation: The Dome at its full capacity with an open house event that drew hundreds to the $22.5 million renovated space.
After closing in 2008, the former South High School building sat vacant along S. Limestone Street for years, an architectural landmark with nothing left to it but memories.
Two years ago the building reopened as a new educational innovation center with the John Legend Theater added in 2016 and other projects kept it a work in progress.
The open house had several goals, according to Kim Fish, Springfield City School District director of communications and collective impact.
“We want people to know all the things going on here,” she said. “Some people think the whole building’s a STEM school. The district couldn’t turn it back into a high school, but the board wouldn’t give up. It’s important to the city. So everywhere here is open to everybody today.”
Activities began with remarks from Springfield City Schools Superintendent Dr. Bob Hill, Mayor Warren Copeland, City School Board President Ed Leventhal and Fish, who each spoke about what The Dome means to the community and the students.
Educational programs hosted at The Dome include the CareerConnectED Center, which is part of the Springfield City Schools, Clark State’s food science classroom and lab and Global Impact STEM Academy, a charter school.
Attendees were ushered through the restored entrance and into the John Legend Theater where a video captured the students and instructors who have been impacted by the programs available at The Dome.
The 680-seat theater just opened its balcony section and will host several programs in coming months.
This was followed by guided tours that took guests through the building’s three floors. For some the tour sparked memories.
Stephen Mertens, a 1999 South graduate, was glad to see the changes to his former school.
“I love it. It’s great use of space for the old building,” he said. “These are things I wish I could have done when I was a student.”
Mertens, a web developer, is hopeful his 7-year-old son Hudson, who also took the tour, can have those opportunities there. The highlight for Mertens was seeing the building’s signature dome on the third floor, where he worked as a student librarian.
Barbara Hansell’s association with the building goes even further back. A 1952 graduate of Springfield High, as South was then known, she was grateful to see reminders of those days in photographs on the walls.
“I remember having our class picture taken out in front on the steps,” said Hansell, who just celebrated her class’ 65th reunion at Windy Knoll Golf Club recently.
Current students such as Lorence McNeal, who has musical aspirations and appeared in the video, was glad to share the school with guests.
“It’s a cool place, I’m glad to be here when it opened,” said the aspiring musician.