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Sycamore debuts new library, celebrates 125 years of excellence

After years without a dedicated library, Sycamore Elementary School is finally enjoying its very own book-nook.

The unveiling of the new facility coincides with the celebration of the school’s 125th anniversary. The party begins today, May 20, at 5:30 p.m. at Memorial Park, where families are invited to picnic and take in a science fair, art show and historical display. At 7 p.m., city luminaries will make a presentation and cut into a birthday cake, followed by an all-school musical performed in the band shell.

On Saturday, there will be an open house on the Sycamore campus from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., when alumni are invited to stroll the halls of their alma mater, followed by an evening fundraiser held at Walter’s Restaurant from 6 to 9 p.m.

Open house attendees are likely to be especially impressed with the addition of the library, because it’s been sorely needed for some time.

Previously, the school’s book collection was housed in the multi-purpose room. When the room served as the venue for school events, an increasingly frequent occurrence, the books—which were stored on rolling metal shelves—had to be wheeled over to the side of the room.

The solution to the problem all started with $1.

Baldwin Park Unified School District offered CUSD a portable building, essentially free, in August of 2013. The gift of the modular building, worth $250,000, was a boon, allowing the district to finally give its oldest elementary school a library.

As the saying goes, nothing in this world is free. The cost associated with moving the building, pouring the foundation and outfitting it for use was $369,243. Part of that amount arose from safety and ADA requirements particular to libraries; the floorboards must be arranged so they support the weight of books and students.

Along with serving as a library, the room includes an office for the school psychologist.

Last week, when the COURIER stopped by Sycamore, students were working on a mural on the side of the library, under the tutelage of Sycamore parent Gina Nelson. Ms. Nelson, whose son Calvin is a second grader at the school, has been a muralist for a couple of decades.

When the library was installed, it became apparent that one of its long, stark outdoor walls would provide a perfect canvas for a mural. The area next to the mural will be turned into an outdoor reading room. Sycamore Elementary School just lost one of its sycamores, so the plan is to use the stumps from the tree for seats and benches.

Ms. Nelson wanted to make sure the kids at Sycamore all felt the mural was theirs. They had a mural club that met on a weekly basis in March, with its young participants coming up with sketches and undertaking research. “We talked about how to represent Claremont and how to represent Sycamore,” the artist explained.

The resulting mural, which includes painted architectural details like arched windows and doorways as well as pillars, includes two big sycamore trees and a lemon grove. The students also opted to feature Sycamore’s motto, “Peace, love, Sycamore” in the mural, albeit in a quiet way. If you look closely at the scene—which spans as it progresses from morning to evening—you’ll see a peace sign in the sun, a cloud shaped like a heart and a constellation delineating a sycamore leaf shining in the night sky.

Every child had an opportunity to put paint to the wall. K-1 students worked with art teacher Mary Town for their part in the ambitious project. They went out and found a leaf they liked, and she helped them study it and then paint it on and around a lemon tree. Sycamore second and third graders did the same with a rock of their choice.

The upper graders each had the opportunity to add something unique to the wall. Ten-year-old Katrina Griswold painted a small campfire, because she thought it would look cool. Kat had never painted on a wall before. “There’s more pressure. It’s kind of hard,” she said.

Other kids painted all manner of things, including a birdbath, birds and a boy reading under a tree. Some even hid “Easter eggs” in the mural, which generations of Sycamore students will enjoy spotting. For instance, Mateo Coleman, hid as a Tardis—the bright blue phone booth sci-fi character Dr. Who uses for time travel—behind a boulder.

“I love working on community murals,” Ms. Nelson said. “I also love the history of Sycamore. I don’t look at it so much as what I’m leaving behind but what I’m adding to what they’ve already built over the years.” 

Kat appreciates the idea of leaving a legacy for coming students. There is a mural in Room 13 that she has admired since she started at the school as a kindergartner. “I wonder what the kids at the school will think of this mural when it’s as old as that mural is,” she said.

The inside of the Sycamore Library is equally charming. Along with ample shelving for books, the room includes furniture paid for by the school’s parent-faculty association. There are wooden tables surrounded by chairs, which feature a cutout of a tree, a nod to the school’s name and lush leaf-scape. There are also soft ottomans where kids can sit or even recline in style. The walls feature art projects by students, including an array of self-portraits by Sycamore second and third graders.

The school’s librarian Lis DesCombs was busy reading a story about bears to a group of kindergarten and first-grade students. “It makes everything brighter and more visible,” she said of the new digs. “We wanted it to be snuggly, cozy and comfy. It feels really great.”

Kindergartener Lina Andreovitch concurred. “I like books. My favorite is this one,” she said, holding up a book called Fishy Tales.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com