After more than 40 years, construction has begun on a standalone gymnasium for Hesperia Junior High School.


More than 100 dignitaries and school officials gathered on the school's campus Thursday afternoon for a ceremonial groundbreaking for a 15,000 square foot new gymnasium.


"Although long overdue, we are thrilled to finally provide ... a venue for athletic and special events," Hesperia Unified Superintendent Mark McKinney told the assembled audience.


The Victor Valley Union High School District originally built the school in 1965 without a separate gymnasium and, as a result, generations of Roadrunners have exercised and eaten in the same room, just reconfigured by staff between class periods.


"This is a very, very exciting time for us," said Hesperia Junior High School Principal Robert McCollum. "This is something that our school has been longing for, for 40 years."


The $5.5 million cost for the gym will be split between the district and state matching funds, which the state approved last year. (The $2.7 million spent by the HUSD are from a separate category of funds than those used to pay for salaries and benefits -- these facilities funds cannot be used to pay for teachers or staff.)


"We love building schools," said Dave Erickson, CEO of Erickson-Hall Construction, which is building the gym, "Because of what we see going on inside when we're done."


"I taught here. My kids came through here. I came back here as an administrator," said McCollum. "We have a family here."


The gym is scheduled to be finished by Aug. 1, 2012. A separate locker room facility will also be renovated next summer.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.