It’s curtains for Cal High theater project

Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat /

Calaveras Unified School District trustees voted 3-2 Tuesday against building a 500-seat performing arts center at Calaveras High School.

Trustees Karan Bowsher, Gregory Gustafson and Evan Garamendi voted against the project. Trustees Sherri Reusche and Zerrall McDaniel voted to approve it.

The auditorium's proponents argued it had been a key feature promised in Measure A, a $13.5 million bond approved in 2006 by district voters.

It also would have created a venue in the northern half of the county to compare with the Dr. Elliott A. Smart Performing Arts Center at Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp.

It is not a hit to the arts community, in that never having been built, no one experienced a loss, said Calaveras County Arts Council Executive Director Mary Jane Genochio, but she added it had potential to be a valuable asset.

"We had hoped for it," Genochio said. "Bret Harte (theater) is great … but this would have been great as just another venue, not only for us but for a variety of different groups and organizations."

In May, trustees approved a plan to refinance what is now about $4 million remaining in bond funds. Paired with $1.2 million in state matching funds, that would have put the district very close to the $5.4 million estimate needed to build the new center.

Tuesday's vote eliminates the possibility of receiving the additional state funds.

CUSD Superintendent Mark Campbell said the possibility of a smaller theater has not yet been ruled out. Campbell said whether to do that or address "some higher prioritized areas of facility need in the district" will likely be an agenda item for discussion at a board meeting on either Feb. 5 or 19.

The district has been hit hard by declining enrollment and associated revenue losses since the 2007 recession. Layoffs and other belt-tightening have ensued, leaving the district to repeatedly explore unpopular measures such as eschewing the theater's construction and an outstanding proposal to close the tiny Rail Road Flat Elementary School.

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The Union Democrat
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