Sage Hill hopes to be a beacon for science

When Mihir Worah, managing director at the asset management giant Pacific Investment Management Co. (PIMCO), arrived in Newport Beach, he had a quibble.

"I moved to Orange County about 10 years ago, and I'm always complaining about how folks here don't care about science, and they're not excited," the particle physicist said.

His son attends Sage Hill School on Newport Coast, so when administrators asked Worah to join a team advising the private college preparatory academy how to build a science center that would benefit the county, he agreed.

"I couldn't turn it down," he said. "This was my chance."

The school turned to big names like Worah to shape a science project that has been in the works for years.

On Tuesday, the school revealed plans for a design leaders hope to break ground on by June. The $7.5-million building will move their science classes out of modules, but school officials also hope it will become an incubator for excitement about science for all of Orange County.

Working with school partners who can't afford the same facilities and hosting public lectures from noted scientists are built into the plans.

"Really, the idea is to inspire and to motivate, and to get people excited about what the possibilities are," said Gordon McNeill, Sage Hill's head of school.

Tuesday night was also the kickoff for fundraising.

Private donors have provided more than $3 million, but Sage is looking for $4 million more with the ribbon-cutting already tentatively set for September 2014.

When McNeill took the reins four and a half years ago, the school's science center was one of the first things on his desk.

He was eager to break ground, but a lagging economy delayed the project, which turned out to be a blessing, he said.

"Well, actually, there was an opportunity to be had," he said. "And we were able to slow down and take a look at it and say what we were trying to accomplish and how can we have a huge impact on Orange County?"

With names like Worah and prominent UC Irvine professors and researchers guiding the center's development, Sage hopes it will provide real-world examples of science beyond the classroom.

"I think they need role models, and I think today's kids need new avenues of excitement," Worah said. "So the textbook just isn't cutting."

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

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