News

At Palo Alto High, new performing-arts center takes shape

583-seat theater slated for opening in summer 2016

Passersby might have noticed the massive 26,000-square-foot building whose skeleton has emerged over the last several weeks along Embarcadero Road on Palo Alto High School's campus.

By next summer, this skeleton will house the school's new performing-arts center, which will contain a 583-seat theater with two levels of seating, a 68-foot-high stage, a drama classroom and a mechanical orchestra pit that can be raised or lowered to accommodate different kinds of performances.

The state-of-the-art center, which now carries a $29 million price tag, was approved by the Palo Alto school board in early 2012. Construction started in May 2014 and is proceeding as scheduled, said Tom Hodges, director of program management for the 2008 Strong Schools Bond, which is funding the project. The building was designed by Emeryville-based architecture firm Gunkel Architecture.

Michael Najar, a visual and performing arts teacher at Paly who served on the planning committee for the project, said the new theater is a long-needed and drastic upgrade from where his and other arts classes are currently housed: the 100-year-old Haymarket Theater.

He said the current space -- which has poor acoustics and even rats running about -- "has never been a useful performing-arts center." He no longer holds performances there.

Najar said he and others pushed for upgrades to Haymarket at least three or four times before the Strong Schools Bond passed. The building now coming to fruition on campus is a "tribute" to this history and the talented, dedicated arts students and faculty Paly has long had, he said.

The enormous building is tall enough in the rear to house the nearly 70-foot-tall stage area, but it is gabled at lower heights toward the front of the building so as to not block the view of Haymarket and the school's iconic Tower Building. It is also tucked back -- a change from an early plan that placed the building in front of Haymarket.

Inside the theater, there's a main section of seats, as well as side boxes for extra seating or use during performances. The orchestra pit can serve multiple purposes, with the capacity to raise it to stage level to extend the stage or cover it to provide 33 additional seats, Hodges said. Other seats are modular to adjust for more intimate performances -- an element that Najar said he and others pushed for in the design process, to be used in situations where a 600-seat theater might not be full. The theater will have a full fly system that allows stage crews to drop or lift curtains, lights, scenery, people or do other stage effects. It's also equipped with an electro-acoustic sound system that accommodates different kinds of performances, from choir to the jazz band, Najar said.

The building's exterior will be consistent with the rest of Paly's campus, with clay tiles on the roof and similar color schemes to the new Media Arts Center sitting just behind it.

Workers are in the midst of constructing framing, pouring concrete and putting up some structural elements. The project is on track to be totally enclosed by October, at which point work on the inside -- drywall, electrical and more -- will begin, Hodges said.

A campaign to raise money for furniture, music stands, recording equipment, lighting and other internal elements will kick off soon, Najar said.

"We know that eventually it's going to be a community building," he said. "Believe you me, the next year is important for the next 50 years."

The performing-arts center is one piece in a years-long overhaul of Paly's campus.

Major planning and construction expenditures at the high school have included $4.8 million in improvements to the track and football stadium; $2.6 million for a multi-use field for soccer, softball and baseball; $36.7 million combined for the two-story classroom building and the Media Arts Center; and $1.3 million in improvements to the Tower Building. Most of the new buildings and renovation of Paly's campus have been funded through the $378 million bond, which voters approved in 2008.

A new athletic center -- estimated in 2014 to cost $36 million to $40 million -- will largely be paid for by a private donor, save for the district's share of $12.8 million. Work on that is projected to start this summer and final costs are being determined, according to Bond Program Manager Robert Golton.

Designs for two other projects are currently underway: $5.5 million for new science classrooms and $10.4 million for renovation of the school library. Construction is set to begin on these two projects in the 2016-17 school year, Golton said.

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2015 at 10:01 am

Adding up the numbers in the article says $103.6 Million of PAUSD funds has been or will be spent on Paly H.S. Even if this money comes from the $378 Million bond, this hardly seems like an equitable distribution of funds.

4.8+2.6+36.7+1.4+12.8+5.5+10.8+29=103.6


Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 1, 2015 at 10:20 am

Anonymous, I believe you double-counted the performing arts project. Here's another attempt to add it up:

$36M (performing arts building + classroom) + $4.8M (track/field) + $2.6M (multi-use field) + $1.3M (tower building) + $12.8M (district's share of new gymnasium) + $5.5M (science rooms) + $10.4M (library) = $73.4M.


Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 1, 2015 at 10:25 am

My bad. Trying again:

$29M (performing arts) + $36M (classrom + media arts) + $4.8M (track/field) + $2.6M (multi-use field) + $1.3M (tower building) + $12.8M (district's share of new gymnasium) + $5.5M (science rooms) + $10.4M (library) = $102.4M.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2015 at 11:25 am

Eric,

You rounded down many of the numbers in the article. I believe my original number of $103.6 is consistent with the article. These number are bound to be low given the vagaries of contract change orders and do nothing to the question of the distribution of PAUSD funding.


24 people like this
Posted by Paly parents dominate school board
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 1, 2015 at 11:40 am

One high school we care about, because it is where the children of local officials go, and one we don't. Gunn is where [portion removed] students are supposed to prop up our property values with their high test scores. If a few of them "fall hard" in the words of our student Gunn board rep, well you have to break some eggs to make an omelette. The other school is where private donors slather on the money for fancy buildings, where they have better project based learning, block schedules, counseling that's twice as good, and fewer uncaring teachers. [Portion removed.]


17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 1, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Perhaps

"Passersby might have noticed the massive 26,000-square-foot building whose skeleton has emerged over the last several weeks along Embarcadero Road on Palo Alto High School's campus."

Should be

"Gridlocked motorists who aren't passing by might have noticed....."


since the Embarcadero/Town & Country traffic light STILL isn't synchronized in spite of many promises over many many years.

Any decade, guys.


6 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 1, 2015 at 1:16 pm

I checked the PAUSD bond project website and looked up Gunn master plan from 2009. At that time, which is now more than 5 years ago, the Gunn projects (listed in the presentation) added up to $123.5M. No doubt (just like Paly) the Gunn projects ended up more expensive than planned.

Do we really want to start this debate?


6 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2015 at 1:19 pm

If the Haymarket is in such bad shape and won't be used, why are we not taking it down? Is it just going to sit there taking up space and deteriorating? How much will it cost the district to maintain that building? Are we keeping it because it's "historic"? People said the old gym is historic, too, but a large donation seemed to have made it "non-historic". The Haymarket will sit there and take up space on a campus that is now bursting at the seams with buildings and students.

And, why can't the district seem to rid itself of Bob Golton? He retired 10 years ago. Couldn't he have trained someone to do his job by now? In 2013 he took in $215K from his pension and another $150K from the district for his part time work as Schools Bond manager.


14 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 1, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Forgot to mention that the previous bond building program focused on the K-8 schools. The two high schools received very little of the funding at that time. This time the allocations are slanted more towards the high schools.

So to complete the "let's not have this debate, it's such a waste of time" (i.e., Gunn vs. Paly - it's never fair, North vs. South, Sports school vs. Academic school, Old vs. New, etc.) thought:

Paly (calculated by "Anonymous") = $103.6M
Gunn (according to 2009 PAUSD Mstr Plan) = $123.5M

Our kids went to Paly. I'm all for making every school the best it can be and don't care if the spending is not exactly equal.

Time to drop the "Us vs. Them" argument.


2 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2015 at 1:48 pm

Looking that bond Citizens Oversight Committee most recent annual report (Web Link), Paly had $101.5M allocated (budgeted plus reserves) vs. $76M for Gunn. I believe it has been that way from the start, with the justification that Paly was older, needed more work, and had more uncertainties due to long use. Now, with the $24M donation for the gym, the amount spent on Paly rises to $125M, 64% ($49M) more than at Gunn. That is indeed quite a disparity.

It does not seem right to let private donors create significant differences between our schools. That was the whole rationale for the creation of PAPIE. It seems like some funds should be shifted to Gunn to even things out.


Like this comment
Posted by MadamPresident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 1, 2015 at 1:50 pm

yes, I we have also noticed awful instaboxes classrooms buildings - anything is going to be done about them?


4 people like this
Posted by moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2015 at 3:55 pm

Sheesh, from the sheer size of it, I deduced that it must be an indoor baseball stadium.


5 people like this
Posted by ?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 1, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Where will all the parking be?


1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2015 at 4:21 pm

@Crescent Park Dad,

You need to look at actual expenditures, not the marketing master plan.


9 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 1, 2015 at 5:24 pm

Where can we find the actual expenditures for Gunn? Never mind, I don't care.

Again - this should be a non-issue. The point is that PAUSD is trying to make both campuses similar in available facilities. Not everything will match, as each site made specific decisions to enhance certain academic pursuits. And there will be a time lag on certain projects.

Through the bond program, Paly will end up with a 580 seat theater with a fly...Gunn will have an updated 900 seat theater with a fly. The reality is that Gunn has had a much nicer theater (and still much larger capacity) for over 50 years. Now both schools will have nice theaters. I think that is a good thing.


4 people like this
Posted by Hmm
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Crescent Park Dad thinks spending $50m more at Paly is fine. Shocking!


3 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2015 at 6:25 pm

@CPD - I would say that prior to the Perry gift, the goal was to have the two high schools roughly equal. Now a private donor has kicked in another $24M for the Paly campus. It is not tragic, but it is not comparable either, and some money should be moved around to even things out.


5 people like this
Posted by JIm H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2015 at 6:28 pm

Wondering what would the schools look like had Paly parents NOT donated money for a new pool, a new track, lighting, lacrosse field and athletic center. Would there still be enough money for the projecta that the district wanted to build?
Both schools have benefitted. The donates monies have forced the district.district . to provide similar facilities at Gunn.
How much pausd money was spent on the Gun. pool and gym vs the Paly pool and gym? My guess is that they spent more at Gunn since most of Paly's was donated money.

What is the Gunn campus lacking? Talk to PAUSD. It's known that the squeaky wheel gets the grease in this area. Complaining here never accomplishes anything, as enjoyable as it might be.

The Gunn campus is nice, as is Paly's. They're both as nice as any public school in the area. In fact I've talked to multiple people who call them the "public-private schools".

Wanting every dollar to be equal is silly.


Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2015 at 6:37 pm

And the actual budget and spending numbers, by school and by project, if any one cares, are in the Citizens Oversight Committee Reports, here: Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2015 at 6:48 pm

@Jim H, per the reports linked to above, the Gunn "aquatic center" cost $4.9M and the new gym cost $12.3M. The new Paly gym I believe is expected to come in between $35-$40M, not sure what the pool cost there (not a bond project). But it seems clear that the Paly gym will cost quite a bit more than the Gunn projects.

There are additional projects to be done at both campuses, identified in the Master Plan. Paly had prioritized their media center above a new gym with the bond funding. Now they get both.


2 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2015 at 9:32 pm

Thanks Fred,
However, my point is how much PAUSD money is being spent? PAUSD spent only a minimal amount on the pool, I believe most, if not all was donated. PAUSD is budgeted to spend around $13-15M on the new gym, $20M is being donated. The Paly fields and lights were similar arrangements.

I'm not happy about the $13M that PAUSD is going to spend on the gym, but they felt they "had" to in order to collect the donation. They gym is ancient and already in much worse shape than Gunn's gym when Gunn was built a new one. The pressure to build the new Gunn pool facility went full bore, only after Paly secured the donations for their pool.

Point being, both schools are benefitting.

We could always get a full salary/admin reconciliation of teachers/admins at each school and balance them on a per student basis also. At some point, we need to be happy with what we have.


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2015 at 11:11 pm

A simple audit of PAUSD books would answer most of these questions. But some people might not like that information to be public.


12 people like this
Posted by It all works out
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 2, 2015 at 1:48 am

Age, condition, and need should be the driving factors for prioritization across the two high schools. Paly has facilities that are much older than Gunn's in some cases (Haymarket). Spangenberg has been the district's go-to performing arts facility for key events for years. Now it's Paly's turn. The two schools will not always be in sync. There will be times when Gunn (the newer school) will need lots of updates.Our parents are always complaining about inequity in political representation on the board and now funding. Stop complaining and comparing, and take action if you think something needs change.Just like you are finally doing with respect to the Gunn policies and culture that have led us to a crisis point. We all turned a blind eye to the things that really matter. That's why they almost got away with an academic zero period. A theater, a gym, a pool - who gives a damn? Seriously? Let's focus on our kids. What is their price tag? $106M? $126M?


5 people like this
Posted by Smile
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 2, 2015 at 10:33 am

I smile every time I drive by the new Paly PAC under construction! It will be a beautiful state of the art facility worthy of the wonderful students and staff who engage in the performing arts. It will also be used by the entire student body for assemblies, etc. and it is a showcase piece of architecture that will become a symbol of Paly for years to come.

The Haymarket is a dump, but it is an historic dump, so it will not be demolished. As is, it is still useful as a lecture auditorium. I hope that in the future it will be refurbished to its prior luster and be used for lectures and class gatherings. It holds approximately 500 people!

In the meanwhile (until the next bond measure is approved) I suggest it be gutted and used as a temporary library when the Paly library receives its much needed update. Another bond measure you ask? Yes. The current bond funds will accomplish only about half of what the two high school have identified as construction needs. Think of this as a 20 year plan. The master facilities plans for both high schools have been designed and the first half have been prioritized and are being actualized. You can expect another bond measure in about 2018, 10 years after we passed the last one.

Please remember that BOND funds can only be used for facilities needs. The construction costs come exclusively from this money, which has grown because of wise investments. Bob Golton is a saint for coming back to PAUSD and seeing this bond program to fruition. The Citizens oversight committee is making sure we the taxpayers get the benefit of our dollars.

This is all working as it should. A bit slow to get started, but now that it's in full swing, our students are starting to benefit from these new facilities. Smile.


6 people like this
Posted by Theatre mom
a resident of Community Center
on May 2, 2015 at 1:15 pm

It's ironic that the building seats so many, when the Paly theatre shows sell about 100 tickets to each performance!


9 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Professorville
on May 2, 2015 at 2:37 pm

I'm amazed by the massive size -- especially height -- of the new Paly performing arts center. Not only is it well over city height limits, it's taller than Stanford Stadium! It seems really out of character with the overall campus.


2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 2, 2015 at 3:04 pm

Maybe the new theater is meant to be "self-sustaining" and the city/district is planning to rent it out to professional theater companies and to concert organizers since this city is so desperately lacking live entertainment venues and this is so much better than most professional venues?

Does it have an opening so the cars gridlocked on Embarcedero can watch performances? The lights still aren't re-timed and the cars turning right from El Camino were backed up WAY past the hospital last night even though they'd taken over one of the through lanes as well as the turn lane?

Were they holding evening classes last night to warrant such a backup?


1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Seating: The goal was to have enough capacity so that a class (e.g., senior class) could be seated at one time for a presentation. Obviously you've never been to any of the music concerts...that's because all of the band concerts have to be held at Gunn --- where the seating is capacity is large enough, as well as a stage large enough for the music program participants.

Height: PAUSD (like most public school districts) is not limited by city height restrictions. State limitations apply instead. According to the illustrations on the PAUSD website:

- Haymarket is over 50' high
- the new theater fly is approximately 70' high
- the Tower Building (over by ECR) is the tallest building on campus at over 80' high

Go stand on ECR and tell me that the Tower Building is taller than Stanford Stadium...I don't think so. So how can the new theater be taller than the stadium?

BTW - Spangenberg (Gunn) has a fly as well --- it's just not as obvious as it sits in the middle of campus and not right up against Arastadero Road.

I won't argue that the mass so close to Embarcadero gives the impression that the building is so tall. But the numbers say different.




4 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Professorville
on May 3, 2015 at 12:48 am

@CPD: The new new building is far more massive and blocky than the slender tower building. And at 68-70' high, it's taller than Stanford Stadium (62').


Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Mountain View
on May 4, 2015 at 4:17 pm

> Maybe the new theater is meant to be "self-sustaining" and the city/district is planning to rent it out to professional theater companies and to concert organizers since this city is so desperately lacking live entertainment venues and this is so much better than most professional venues?

That's a possibility although there are some options:

Bing Concert Hall (842 seats)
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts (589 seats)
new Palo Alto facility (583 seats)
Menlo-Atherton Center for the Performing Arts (492 seats)

The Bing Concert Hall has absorbed much of the demand for more renown artists seeking a suitable concert venue. For example, a few years ago Philharmonia Baroque was performing at M-A. Today their Peninsula concerts are held at Bing and they are often selling out the venue.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 4, 2015 at 6:19 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

In my opinion Bing is the premier music venue in the Bay area in terms of seating and sound.

Palo Alto High's auditorium will not be able to compare to Bing.

And the only thing that is usually on at the MA Performing Arts Center are the lights - I suspect it is used less than 20% of the time.


Like this comment
Posted by Adam Fresquez
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2015 at 11:09 am

I am very intrigued by this new Performing Arts Center. Is there a way to get additional information on what companies are installing certain systems into the space (lighting, sound, and etc)? I am the new Theater Manager at Dublin Unified School District's Center for Performing Arts & Education facility (cpae.dublinusd.org). We've been open for a little over a year now and had issues with some contractors and crews that built our space. In essence nobody talked to anybody else so communication was poor throughout the process. I've spent the past year, along with the project manager, in getting the space to a place where it's functioning on a high level. Anytime I see a new theater being built I cringe at what issues lie ahead in the future if not caught early. I can't tell you all how many times I heard, "I wish you had been here earlier." I hope that the new Palo Alto facility has a theater manager in place and can be a part of this process before it is complete. It will save money on what is truly useful and needed for the space as well as getting aspects implemented that would otherwise have been overlooked. Some of my friends are theater managers in facilities that were built from 2005-2014 and are left with a half functioning facility (Logan high school, Saratoga high school, Carlmont high school). I would love to help out if needed. I can't wait to see what the facility looks like next year. Good luck!


Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 14, 2015 at 11:31 am

@ Adam: Contact Bob Golton at the PAUSD office: rgolton@pausd.org


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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