Toward the end, Mira Costa High's famed Fisher Gym stood as a well-worn monument to the Manhattan Beach school's athletic legacy. At the beginning, the Fisher Gym's pristine successor stands vacant, a monument to future potential -- and a reminder of how much has changed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The final event at the Fisher Gym, the annual Pacific Shores Tournament in December 2018, recalled the facility's better days and underscored why it was about to go dark:
There were the basketball games, of course, and the trophies on display -- including seven boys and 13 girls volleyball CIF championships -- and former Mira Costa athletes who gathered at tournament's end to celebrate and share fond memories of the gym, named after Carl Fisher, who spent 33 years there as a counselor, vice principal and principal.
But a leaky roof also postponed the tournament one day.
Rain won't bother the gym's successor -- but it also has yet to host a game.
That's where the Mira Costa athletic program finds itself today, having shuttered a legendary gym but unable to create new legends in its impressive $39 million complex because the coronavirus pandemic has prevented high school sporting events from occurring. The program's officials and players know what was -- and can only dream, for now, about what could be.
“This will be an amazing place to call home,” said varsity boys basketball coach Neal Perlmutter.
The eventual opening of the new athletic complex has been years in the making.
In 2016, Manhattan Beach Unified School District voters OK'd Measure EE, which provided the money for the new facility via a bond that property owners will back via higher taxes. By that point, the Fisher Gym, which opened in 1953, was 63 years old and was already a classic.
“It had a classic fieldhouse feel,” Mira Costa boys volleyball coach Avery Drost said. “People were really close together, it got really loud and the history in the place, all the championship volleyball played in that gym, really set the gym and school apart.”
Mira Costa principal Ben Dale, in his 11th year at the school, said that the success his student-athletes have had is the reason for the new complex. The year voters approved the bond measure, high school athletic ranking and record-keeping website Cal-Hi Sports named Mira Costa the best sports program in California's Division 2. The school used that to hearken to Measure BB, another bond that allowed the campus to upgrade 70% of its classrooms from 2010 to 2015, Dale said.
"Our mantra all along was, we have great academics here," Dale said. "Now we need a facility to match.
“It resonated with the community, plus we handled Measure BB on time and on budget, so we had built up that trust and the public felt confident to issue public funds for our youths," the principal added. "An important part of any project is building and maintaining the public trust, and anybody that’s ever been in the (Fisher Gym) knew that it was time.”
And the plans for the successor were as flashy as a behind-the-back pass: 78,000 square feet, two gyms, multiple weight rooms, dance rooms and classrooms -- and a hall of fame. And the facility's architectural and engineering designs came from Gensler, the firm responsible for Banc of California Stadium, the home of Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Football Club.
“This has been," Dale said, "a passion project, for sure."
Construction began in earnest in February 2019, two months after the Fisher Gym's final tournament.
And the work went swiftly. A year later, officials predicted the gym would be ready by the end of July and open in time for the fall semester.
But then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Construction, while slowed a bit, did finish before the new school year. The pandemic, though, also delayed the facility's opening.
The new complex was supposed to open in August and, in a pandemic-free world, would already be hosting Mira Costa volleyball matches and basketball games in the main gym, which can hold 2,400 people and still bears the Fisher name. The wrestling team would be holding practices in its dedicated room. Ancillary rooms would be hosting dance and yoga classes. Youth basketball leagues would be hooping it up in the smaller, second gym that seats 200 people.
And the general public would be marveling at the scope of the complex: Gym and floor-level coaches' offices, a hub for students who might need to study or catch up on schoolwork before practice. Outdoor concrete stairs that lead to the bottom of the complex and to the Waller Football Stadium. The football and soccer fields, on either side of the complex at different elevations, that connect to the building and provide access to both fields from inside the gym. And nods to the past, with a trophy case, a hall of fame -- and, hanging above the facility's entrance, a portion of the old Fisher Gym court.
“It is probably the nicest high school facility I’ve ever seen,” Perlmutter said. “It looks like a college gym.
"There was no detail too small," he added. "A lot of thought went into it.”
Perlmutter's basketball team has been doing their conditioning work at an adjacent outdoor court. Last season, while construction was underway, the boys and girls basketball teams didn’t have a home, so they practiced at local middle schools and played home games at other nearby high schools.
Now the teams have a home. But they have to wait. Wait for the coronavirus pandemic to subside enough, and vaccines to be sufficiently distributed among faculty, so the campus can reopen.
Under the state's reopening plan, grades 7 to 12 -- which includes all four high school levels -- cannot return to campus until the county in which a school resides moves from the most-restrictive purple tier to the second-most restrictive red tier. Los Angeles County remains in the purple tier and can't move to the red tier until its adjusted case rate is at or below 7 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people and its positivity rate is 8% or lower.
When that will happen has no fixed date
If there is a bright spot in the delay of high school sports, however, it's that it allowed for some final touch-ups, including the installation of solar panels over the gym.
“I wanted to build a gym that (Carl Fisher) would be proud of," Dale said, "and I want students to know that it is because of their blood, sweat and tears that they got this. It’s here because of them.”
Now all that's left is to wait for the next memories to be made.
By the numbers
39 million: The cost, in dollars, to build Mira Costa High's new athletic complex
78,000: The size, in square feet, of the new facility, which includes two gyms
2,400: The number of people the new complex's main gym can seat during games
67: The age of the old Fisher gym, in years, before it closed.
8: The percent that LA County's coronavirus positivity rate must be at or below, along with an adjusted case rate of 7 per 100,000 people, before grades 7 to 12 can return to campus.