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CCSF trustees revive plans to build theater at Balboa Reservoir

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Rendering courtesy TEF Design/CCSF

Plans to build a performing arts center at Balboa Reservoir may soon be resurrected now that City College of San Francisco is no longer suffering from an accreditation crisis.

The latest plans call for the construction of a large performance hall next to the new Multi-Use Building and the relocation of a historic Diego Rivera mural on campus into the new theater, according to a proposal set to appear before the Board of Trustees Thursday from Vice President Brigitte Davila and Trustee John Rizzo.

The news comes within months of two victories for City College. In January, the college’s accreditor reaffirmed its accreditation for another seven years. The following month, city officials reached a deal to make tuition free for most San Francisco residents at City College next school year.

“We are now on solid ground, we are through the phase of fighting for our existence, and now we are going to improve City College,” Rizzo said in an interview Wednesday. “I see the performing arts center as a symbol of City College rising.”

The center has remained a hot topic throughout the accreditation crisis. However, this proposal calls for an architect to submit a proposal for the performance hall to the Board of Trustees by September.

The proposal would bring a large performance hall, two smaller theaters and classrooms to the main campus on Ocean Avenue. The project is estimated to cost in the ballpark of $100 million, according to Rizzo, and could face financial concerns at a time when CCSF has been forced to tighten its purse strings.

The college already has the Diego Rivera Theater, which houses a large mural from the artist in the lobby, but the theater is insufficient and in “somewhat dilapidated” condition, Rizzo said.

Jeff Hamilton, a spokesperson for CCSF, said Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb is aware that the “current art facilities are inadequate,” but cautioned that the proposal is just one “possible scenario” for how the performing arts center may be built.

“This is very much something that is still in process,” Hamilton said.

Madeline Mueller, who chairs the music department, first noticed the lack of an auditorium at CCSF when she started there in 1965. That same year, the San Francisco Examiner ran an article calling for more performance space on campus.

“CCSF, it appears, faces other pre-eminent needs, is handicapped by having a 300-seat hall and believes its efforts would be buried under the normal cultural life of The City,” wrote Alexander Fried. “Yet the reasons may not, and probably should not, remain valid indefinitely.”

Mueller has been an advocate for the center in the decades since.

“We have talented students and there’s just no place for them to perform unless we go out and look for every nook and cranny,” Mueller said in an interview Wednesday.

The performing arts center almost sprung to life in 2012, but plans were put on hold when the accreditation crisis began. The college later reportedly lost some $38 million in state funding for the project.

“When we last touched it in 2012, it was shovel ready,” said Doug Tom, an architect with TEF Design who drew up the initial plans. “We had gotten the permits from the … state architect. They had a contractor ready to go. And then the whole accreditation thing happened so they pulled the plug.”

CCSF’s accreditor placed the college on “show cause” status in 2012 and threatened to revoke the college’s accreditation a year later.

Tom said the same plans from 2012 could be used but need to be revised to current standards and resubmitted to the state architect for approval.

The latest proposal calls for the three-part construction of the performing arts center, beginning with the large performance hall and relocation of the “Pan American Unity” mural.

Hamilton estimated that the entire effort could cost between $90 million and $160 million.

The college has already spent about $11 million on design and infrastructure for the center, according to Rizzo.

“If we never build the performing arts center that infrastructure is wasted,” Rizzo said. “Every year that this facility has delayed increases the cost by a huge amount. There’s going to be a point where it won’t get done. It will just get too expensive.”

City College has $47 million from bond measures in 2001 and 2005 to pay for the project, but Rizzo expects most of the funding will be used on the performance hall alone.

Afterward, City College will have to secure additional state funding or turn to alternative sources like fundraising.

The effort could mirror a similar project by the San Francisco Unified School District, which is using bond money as well as private funds to build a district-wide arts education center in Civic Center.

The college could also tap into its general fund for the project, but the college is facing a $35 million step down in state funding next fiscal year. The college also has to pay back nearly $39 million to the state over the next decade because it cannot prove that students attended certain online courses before 2014.

Despite the financial concerns, Rizzo said that the center could become a resource for the greater arts community in San Francisco. It would also benefit CCSF.

Mueller said the center could be a recruitment tool for the college, offering a space for local high school students and prospective CCSF students to perform and become engaged with the college.

The college has struggled to attract students in recent years because of the accreditation crisis, losing a third of its student population since 2012.

Separate from the proposal, Hamilton said the Board of Trustees and staff are expected to discuss the construction of a performing arts center March 23.

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