Details of plans for a new Arts Center slated to rise near the Civic Center area that will house the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in the coming years are emerging, though more than half of the funding needed to develop the project has yet to be secured.

Mark Cavagnero, architect for the estimated $294 million project, met with Superintendent Vincent Matthews and other San Francisco Unified School District and city leaders on Tuesday to discuss details of the project, which entails transforming a block on Van Ness Avenue into an arts education hub and high school.

The school district has yet to secure the more than $150 million needed to develop the long-planned Arts Center at the site of two district-owned buildings at 135 Van Ness Ave. and 170 Fell St. The Arts Center will also include the existing Nourse Theater at 275 Hayes St.

Plans pitched to potential funders on Tuesday indicate that The Institute, an art resource center planned for 170 Fell St., will be focused on providing equity in the arts for students “who have been historically excluded from full participation in the arts,” according to district spokesperson Laura Dudnick.

Renovations to 170 Fell St. would include the creation of dedicated studios and spaces for a number of disciplines, including spoken word venues; mural development studios; labs for a comic book illustration, skatepark design and video games design; family arts classes for multigenerational interaction; as well as a youth-led radio station.

The institute will also come with four lecture halls that will also serve as performance spaces with a more than 100-person seating capacity, an annex for the public radio station KALW, a “creativity lab” that will provide play space for pre K-3 students and a makerspace that is planned to accommodate local artists in a ”hub” model.

An art gallery is also envisioned for the building that will be available to all schools in the district to use for shows.

The notion of relocating Ruth Asawa from its Twin Peaks location to 135 Van Ness Ave. dates back some two decades, and the SFUSD revived these plans in 2014. Once construction is completed, some 850 Ruth Asawa students are expected to find space in the Arts Center.

The plans also include the construction of a new 600-seat theater with open access to a proposed outdoor plaza.

The school district currently has less than half of the funding needed to see it’s plans through. The available funding, some $123 million, includes $115 million from voter-approved bonds and $8 million from the district’s school reserves.

The district is currently awaiting approval of the project’s architectural plans by the Department of the State Architect to assess whether it qualifies for some $50 to 70 million in funding from the 2016 state Proposition 51, which allocated $3 billion to new construction projects in California, according to Dudnick.

Even so, the district would still need to raise another $100 million to $125 million in funding to develop the Arts Center, and is currently “exploring private donations from arts patrons,” she said.

Plans for the project are expected to be submitted in the Fall 2019, and construction could begin the following spring.

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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