Piedmont High School's Alan Harvey Theater is one of the city's landmarks, a focal point -- but it's hardly one of Piedmont's crown jewels. It's an outdated, aging structure.
At nearly 40 years old, it's a cramped, crowded showcase -- complete with old, torn seats -- for the Piedmont Unified School District's many productions, including PHS plays, musicals, dance performances, school assemblies, parent education programs, the a cappella revue, as well as the iconic annual Bird Calling Contest.
Residents have discussed and debated renovating, upgrading or replacing the theater in recent years, and for the past two years, the district has held public meetings to solicit input from residents. In addition, architects and facilities planners spent more than a year developing a plan for renovating the theater.
As a result of these discussions, the Piedmont school board decided earlier this year to put a bond measure on the June 3 ballot. Measure H calls for issuing $13.5 million in bonds to upgrade, renovate, repair and bring the theater up to the legal accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The measure requires approval of 55 percent of city voters.
The measure would provide handicapped accessibility to seating, restrooms, the stage and the orchestra area; upgrade the electrical, mechanical and utility systems; install fire and life safety improvements to the ventilation, sprinkler systems and exit lighting; and improve energy efficiency to lighting.
It would also add and improve classroom space for the schools' performing arts programs.
The measure also calls for checks and balances, including mandatory audits and an oversight committee. And the funding stays in Piedmont.
There is little disagreement from proponents and opponents of Measure H on the need to upgrade, renovate and repair the theater. There is, however, disagreement over the cost of the bond measure and the need to fix the theater right now -- if Measure H is approved, work would begin later this year and take roughly a year to complete.
Those against the bond measure cite a variety of reasons. For one, they point out that the district could use the $500,000 in private donations to make needed repairs to the roof and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems and replace the seating and an accessibility ramp.
Others take issue with the total renovation costs associated with Measure H -- and mention that the San Leandro Performing Arts Center cost a total of $14 million -- arguing that it's worth looking at an entirely new theater. Included in these arguments is a comparison per square foot of the St. Helena High School Theatre and the Palo Alto Performing Arts Center compared with the proposed costs of the Alan Harvey Theater.
And the opponents say that citing the ADA violations amounts to a scare tactic and is essentially a false issue.
We find most of the arguments against approving the bond measure picayune, specious and irrelevant. The $500,000 wouldn't address the concerns about infrastructure, accessibility and fire and safety issues. It would amount to a Band-Aid solution and a financially unsound one at that, given that construction costs go up about 5 percent a year. That means a renovation project in the future would be costlier, and not cost-effective.
We don't understand the arguments about the square-foot costs -- the proponents say that opponents failed to figure in increases in construction costs in their estimates. And the issue here isn't about building an entirely new theater.
Proponents have described the project plan as "a Ford, not a Mercedes," and in keeping with Piedmont's character and fiscal nature, we find that fitting. The project isn't loaded with frills or ostentatious touches -- it addresses the basic issues, concerns and problems.
And all Piedmonters should realize that upgrading and renovating the Alan Harvey Theater will only have a positive impact on education -- virtually all students from kindergarten through high school in the district use the theater -- and on home prices. Piedmont's heralded performing arts programs and excellent schools deserve no less.
In addition, the district's track record in seismically upgrading the schools and rebuilding Havens Elementary has been exemplary. We can expect no less in the Alan Harvey Theater project.
Endorsements for Measure H include seven former mayors, League of Women Voters of Piedmont, the current Piedmont City Council and school board members.
We do share some of the opponents' concerns about the millions of dollars associated with the project. But we find this plan to upgrade, renovate and fix the Alan Harvey Theater -- instead of embarking on a new theater project -- prudent. And we do believe the benefits far outweigh the costs. That's why we're urging a "yes" vote on Measure H.