CHS Theatre renovation kicks off with groundbreaking hoopla June 6

On Wednesday, June 6, Claremont High School will host a groundbreaking ceremony for the renovation of the CHS Theatre, a project that has been several years in the making.

In December 2008, the State Allocation Board awarded a $1.5 million matching Career and Technical Education (CTE) grant for modernization of the facility. CTE funding is designated for projects providing students with career and technical education.

Along with an upgrade of the electrical wiring system, expansion plans include a 1600-square-foot lobby with a ticket window and handicap-accessible restrooms and 3,500 square feet of classroom space. That addition will create backstage space for set construction, a costume shop, storage for scenery and props, dressing rooms and student restrooms.

In the years after the award of the grant, theatre department staff, students and boosters have not remained idle. Between vigorous fundraising and some generous gifts from community members, they rallied to raise $400,000.

Despite their best efforts, the renovation project faced a gap of $1.1 million as the grant’s June 30, 2012 deadline loomed. Had the matching funds not been provided by that time, the school would have had to forfeit the state funding. It came as a relief to project supporters when it was announced at the May 3 CUSD board meeting the district would provide a $1.5 million bridge loan, funded largely through the sale of the old district property on Base Line Road and Mountain Avenue.

With funding in place, the Paul C. Miller Construction company, which comes with high recommendations for work on schools in nearby districts like Etiwanda, Fontana and Chino, is ready to get started on the Don F. Fruechte Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Five hundred students, a quarter of the CHS student body, participate in the theatre department and its productions. The choral music department also uses the theater for its shows, so a large number of students will benefit from the expansion.

Not yet, though.

The theatre renovation project has a 240-day construction schedule, during which time staff and students will have to find other performance venues through next spring. The theatre department is renting the Candlelight Pavilion for one of its shows and will perform at Bridges Auditorium twice next year, once more than normal.

Even with these efforts, students will be impacted next year by performing 5 less shows than most years. The staff and students of the CHS choral department are also feeling the pressure as they look for substitute performance venues.

CHS Theatre Director Krista Carson Elhai says she feels badly about the curtailed season, especially for the seniors who will endure the displacement without getting to enjoy the new theater at its completion.

With this in mind, she is taking pains to plan enrichment activities that will leave students with fond memories and stronger portfolios at the end of the year. The students will participate in more festivals, and Ms. Elhai is planning a New York theater trip during next year’s spring break.

In addition, students will have an opportunity to work with a theater luminary for a show to be performed at Bridges next February. Award-winning performer, director and choreographer DJ Gray will lend her expertise for a production to be named at the upcoming theatre department end-of-year banquet.

Ms. Gray was associate choreographer for the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and for the Tony-nominated Xanadu.

The CHS theatre department will have plenty to celebrate at their banquet. With a new theater, a famous collaborator and the success of their recent performance of All Shook Up, the present and future look bright for the department.

Want to show your support at the theatre project’s groundbreaking celebration? The June 6 event will be held from 5 to 5:45 p.m. in front of the theatre at Claremont High School at 1601 N. Indian Hill Blvd.

—Sarah Torribio






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