SANTA ROSA -- As STEM education picks up momentum in U.S. schools, the multiscience SPARQ Center opened earlier this month at Piner High School.

[caption id="attachment_91956" align="alignright" width="324"] Piner High School Geospatial Technology Pathway program coordinator and instructor Kurt Kruger and Principal Sally Brimrose (credit: Tenaya Fleckenstein Photography)[/caption]

Short for Science, Position, Astronomy, Research and Query Center, SPARQ describes the planned uses for the 5,000-square-foot building. The center opened April 11 with an astronomical telescope, global positioning system (GPS) and geographic information system (GIS) technology ("position"), climate and meteorological instruments and a multiaxis planetarium.

Named by the Piner High Astronomy Science Club, the center uses astronomy as a way to pull in lessons about physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology and Earth science. And STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- learning is a major focus of state and national "21st century schools" curriculum.

[caption id="attachment_91957" align="alignleft" width="350"] The SPARQ Center includes a planetarium and observatory. (credit: Tenaya Fleckenstein Photography)[/caption]

Indeed, Piner teachers have noted increased interest in STEM classes and extracurricular activities such as the school’s astronomy club because of the construction of the SPARQ Center, according to project designer Quattrocchi Kwok Architects of Santa Rosa.

Piner's Geospatial Technology Pathway program has garnered nationwide exposure from construction trade periodicals such as American Surveyor Magazine for bringing GPS and GIS technology and local professional know-how to training high school students.

[caption id="attachment_91960" align="alignright" width="320"] Bill Carle, president of the Santa Rosa City Schools Board of Education, speaks in front of the SPARQ Center at Piner High School at the April 11 opening. (credit: Tenaya Fleckenstein Photography)[/caption]

Construction cost $2.8 million.