Student Center to undergo renovation

Performing arts students say they feel cramped backstage. [Emma Williams]

The Emily Gates Student Center is in desperate need of change, students say.

“It is extremely inconvenient backstage. For musical in particular, we have a cast, an orchestra and tech backstage, and it’s hard to move around,” sophomore Lauren Hartley said. Change will be coming in the form of a $2.8 million renovation, involving the direct input of the music and drama teachers.

The student center was originally built as a cafeteria over 40 years ago. According to drama teacher Linda Kislingbury, the sound and light booth is unsafe, the building is infested with rats and squirrels that have eaten at wiring and there is little space in the dressing rooms.

Another major issue is permanent seating. Currently, school activities use folding chairs purchased seventeen years ago.

“In the audience, the seating is uncomfortable and dangerous. I’ve had many older family members who couldn’t come to the shows because the seats were too hard to sit in for long periods of time, and on several occasions the seats slip through the cracks,” Hartley said. Kislingbury said they would like comfortable permanent seating for 250 to 300 people.

The music and drama departments have also discussed creating a permanent sound and light booth, soundproofing areas of the building and creating more space backstage. Kislingbury hopes to create a larger dressing room area and a space to build, paint and store sets.

The school is working with the Shalleck Collaborative, a consultation service that plans and designs performing arts facilities. They have created theaters for Palo Alto High School, San Mateo High School and Mills High School, as well as professional-level theaters. Kislingbury is touring theaters to determine what features she is interested in for San Marin.

The renovation is set to be completed within three years. Simply getting the plans approved by the state government can take up to a year. Meetings between the drama and music teachers, Shalleck and the architectural firm take place once a month.

“We have been told the plans will be solidified in the next six months,” Kislingbury said.

The exact cost of the renovation is still unknown. The money is coming from NUSD’s $222 Million Bond Measure, Measure G, which diverted $2.8 million to San Marin’s student center renovation after the 2016 local election. However, Novato High School received $20 million to build a completely new theater. This is because of the district’s distribution of money to each school, based on project prioritization. During the updating of the District Facilities Master Plan, district officials met with staff, students, parents, music boosters and athletic boosters to determine the prioritization of the projects Measure G would support.

“At San Marin, the top priorities were the STEM center, athletic facilities, and then I think remodeling the student center was the third or fourth priority. At Novato High School, the same process was used, but the difference was that every group prioritized building a new performing arts theater as their number one priority,” Superintendent Jim Hogeboom said.

Some have voiced concerns that the school often overlooks the arts department. The previous NUSD bond measure, passed in 2001, did not give any money to San Marin music or performing arts.

“We’ve had the same student center for decades, with barely any renovations,” said junior Timmy Harris, a STEM student also in jazz band. “We’ve still had San Marin alumni go to colleges like the Berklee College of Music, but that’s mostly because of the support and encouragement of Ms. McIvor and Ms. Gates, not necessarily from any aid from NUSD administration.”