Why premier performing arts centers are a must for Valley schools


Bright lights, cheering parents, and ticket sales are typically associated with Friday night football, but athletes aren’t the only ones who can draw a crowd. High school students in theater, choir, dance and orchestra work tirelessly to exhibit their art for the enjoyment of families and friends. And, as with other activities, having the right space is crucial to the experience.

“Students’ confidence level is much higher when they perform in the appropriate venue where their voices and instruments are crisp and clear, as opposed to echoing off the walls of a cafeteria,” says Jeremy Calles, financial director of Tolleson Union High School District. (TUHSD). “Lighting and acoustics improve performance, and students can see crowd reactions better than they would inside a building that was not designed for this purpose. “


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Performing Arts Centers (PACs) are an integral part of many Arizona high schools because of the value they bring not only to students but to the community at large. Calles adds that TUHSD rents its facilities, including the new PACs at Sierra Linda High School and West Point High School, to the public at low cost when school is not in session.

These structures, however, require a specialized approach to construction. Here’s what makes PACs today unique, along with some of the construction challenges involved.

Building for the arts

David Pisani, COO at Clearwing Systems Integration (CSI), explains that the type of work his company focuses on is directly related to a building’s entertainment device, whether it’s sound systems. , video projectors, lighting, stage curtains or other theatrical niches. elements.

“There’s a lot of smoke and mirror stuff going into theaters,” he notes. “This is where the specialized side of our construction business comes in. We install the infrastructure for entertainment equipment. For example, theater stage curtains typically attach to an iron pipe that is suspended from a series of wire rope ties and capable of electrically or manually moving in and out of sight on the stage.

The components necessary for a performance space often require the design team and installation technicians to have specialized skills that other subcontractors do not have. Many CSI employees have experience in the entertainment industry and have turned to construction later in their careers.

Plus, today’s high school performance halls are very different from what they were in the past, according to Pisani. From the 1950s to the 1980s, auditoriums were typically gathering places for announcements or school concerts and did not necessarily require a specialist contractor to build them. Today’s PACs have the capacity to support professional acts.

“I have seen a trend over the past 10 to 15 years in school systems pushing for world-class equipment so that they can generate income on rentals and professional shows, while still having space. first-rate for traditional school productions, ”notes Pisani.

Located in Scottsdale, the new Notre Dame Preparatory Performing Arts Center, named after the patron saint of the arts, Saint Catherine of Bologna, is an adaptable space suitable for many uses. (Photo by Mike Mertes, AZ Big Media)

A program-based approach

As the cost of technology has declined, this has allowed facilities to become increasingly flexible and have the capacity to cater for a wider range of artistic disciplines. Located in Scottsdale, the new PAC of Notre Dame Preparatory, named after the patron saint of the arts, Saint Catherine of Bologna, is an adaptable space suitable for many uses. The campus celebrated the building’s grand opening on September 30.

Inside, the PAC includes a black box-style theater, rehearsal spaces for the choir and orchestra, as well as a multi-purpose studio with a green screen, cameras and audio equipment that are used for the program. NDP Live from the school.

Jill Platt, President of Notre Dame Preparatory, explains, “NDP Live is our school’s marketing department. Jay Sanderson, who is responsible for NDP Live, is engaging his students as producers to create content that will be shown on the web and in our ads, ”she said. “They also live stream our home football games, which are broadcast on our YouTube channel. It’s an opportunity for the students to learn by doing what it’s like to produce something and also a great marketing tool for us.

Prior to the opening of the St Catherine’s Performing Arts Center in Bologna, the only large gathering space on campus for the past 20 years was the cafeteria. Platt recalls previous theatrical performances in which students had to pronounce lines over the sounds of the ice machine turning on and off.

In addition, the new 300-seat PAC is large enough for each grade level to attend Mass together, which had not been possible due to the small size of the on-site chapel. The seats themselves are on a retractable platform which allows for easy storage to create more flat space when needed.

The show must continue

Running a construction project in the middle of an active campus comes with many challenges, according to Keyvan Ghahreman, director of client and pre-construction services for Willmeng, who worked at the St Catherine’s Performing Arts Center in Bologna.

“Building on a busy campus can become an attractive nuisance for students who want to explore and maybe get into trouble. You need to make sure that security is in place so that someone does not walk around your job site and get injured. Keeping construction separate from campus activities is a big deal.

Patrick Sheppard, project manager for Chasse Building Team, has extensive experience working on active school campuses. Chasse is involved with CAP upgrades at Pinnacle High School and North Canyon High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District. Sheppard says the safety of students and faculty is paramount. Subcontractors are required to have fingerprints, and Chasse makes sure workers are easy to identify after registering at the site.

“A high school is a living, breathing entity almost 24 hours a day. There is always something going on, so we coordinate closely with school staff to make sure we are up to date and communicating how our assignments could. affect them, ”notes Sheppard. “Campus operations take precedence over construction. We plan our deliveries and plan around what’s going on at school.

Depending on the project, it may be necessary to disable utilities. Steve Poulin, senior vice president of operations for McCarthy Building Companies, said any potential shutdowns are a planned event. “It will happen either on a weekend or during a break. Our calendar has very specific milestones that include those running around the district so we don’t interrupt learning. McCarthy, who worked on the Sierra Linda High School PAC, also identifies times of the year when students undergo key tests to avoid loud operations during this time.

Despite the complexities and obstacles to building the PAC, Calles focuses on the impact on students. “Not everyone gets the chance to sign a recording contract, so performance in high school may be the most important in this student’s life. Why would you have this in a cafeteria when you can have it in a state of the art performing arts center? “


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