West county will get its first look at El Molino High School’s new $7.9 million performing arts center during El Molino Night on Tuesday, Oct. 22. Prospective students and their families (and perhaps curious members of the community) will get to go on a tour of the new theater.
Designed by Quattrocchi Kwok Architects of Santa Rosa, the 9,000 square-foot performing arts center has 298 seats, towering ceilings, walls paneled in pale wood, with the seats and other details in the El Molino colors of red and black.
The performing arts center is still under construction, but Phase 1 — the stage, theater seating, tech platform, lights and other equipment — is now complete and ready to use.
El Molino Principal Matt Dunkle estimates that Phase 2 — the lobby, bathrooms, dressing rooms and a green room — will be completed by the end of October 2020.
The building is the first of its kind for El Molino, which until now has used its “cafetorium” for performances. The new performing arts center will be used for school arts productions, assemblies and presentations, as well as being available for rent to the larger community.
“Despite not having an official space for drama, band and dance, our students and teachers have fostered an incredible program at El Molino, and the performing arts center will only add to that,” said West Sonoma County Union High School District facilities manager Jennie Bruneman.
She said the high school probably won’t use the theater for performances until spring, though she said the district would be training teachers and some select students how to use the lights and equipment starting next week. The first event scheduled for the theater is a spring dance recital directed by El Molino dance teacher Jolene Johnson.
According to Dunkle, there are no plans for a grand opening event at this point.
“We’ll probably save that for next year,” he said, “when the whole thing is finished.”
At the last West Sonoma County Union High School District board meeting on Oct. 16, Bruneman gave the school board an update on the status of the performing arts center.
“This project is so close to being done,” she said, noting that Phase 1 is on schedule to be completed by Oct. 31.
She noted that although the district broke ground on the performing arts center in August of last year, the project has been almost 10 years in the making.
“I just want to remind everybody that in June of 2010, our gracious community passed Measure I, a $44 million bond. Then in June of 2018, they passed Measure A, a $91 million bond.”
Bruneman said the majority of the project’s $7.9 million price tag was paid for with Measure I funds, with a little help from Measure A.
At board meetings, members of the public often question why the district is building a multi-million dollar performing arts center when it says it can’t afford to give raises to its teachers.
The money for El Mo’s performing arts center is coming from bonds meant solely for facilities, and cannot be spent on salaries. Additionally, a performing arts center for El Molino was specified in the language of Measure A, which voters approved by 67.4% in 2010.
“We have all long dreamt of a performing arts space for El Molino High School and could not be more thrilled now that it is a reality,” Bruneman said.