Sacramento's El Camino Fundamental High School drumming up sponsors for performing arts center

12/27/2011 12:00 AM

12/27/2011 6:34 AM

A determined group of parents, educators, students and alumni will begin the new year by kicking off a search for corporate sponsors to help them build a state-of-the art performing arts center at El Camino Fundamental High School.

The organization – ecARTS – wants to build a 600-seat theater with an orchestra pit, backstage facilities and professional lighting and sound at the campus in north Sacramento. A large lobby would serve as a gallery for student art.

"We're looking for big money – people in the community, local or national businesses," said Kevin Glaser, music teacher and president of ecARTS. He estimates the facility will cost between $12 million and $20 million.

"We'll start asking them (companies) to come on board for naming rights," said Wendy Phoenix, a parent and ecARTS board member. She said three large local firms have expressed interest in the project.

Glaser is the driving force behind the effort to build the theater, which started as an idea nearly 20 years ago.

The work began in earnest two years ago when the organization registered as a nonprofit.

The ecARTS board consists of 35 members, with 200 supporters on its mailing list. The group has spent the last two years touring theaters, making plans and raising money. It has collected $40,000 to help pay architect fees and the cost of hiring a fund-raising corporation.

The school board has signed off on the facility, which would displace the tennis courts, requiring that they be moved. The group plans to build restrooms and a snack bar to serve at athletic functions.

The performing arts center is greatly needed, said Glaser, who teaches band, music and choir at the school.

"San Juan Unified has a thriving arts program, elementary through high school," he said. "All the elementaries or middle schools have band and choir as part of their school day. Every high school in our district has a music program with band and choir. And, I believe, the high schools all have drama departments."

El Camino, Bella Vista and Mesa Verde high schools all put on full-scale musicals each year, he said. But most plays are performed in the cafetorium – a combined cafeteria and auditorium.

"The entire San Juan Unified doesn't have an operating theater for any of the theater groups," Glaser said.

The theater could also accommodate speakers or be used for ceremonies or large district meetings, Glaser said. It also would be available to the community, filling a big need in the community, according to the music teacher.

Supporting the arts is important, say board members. Research shows that arts programs help students perform better academically.

Phoenix is convinced. Her daughter, Morgan Phoenix, started in band at Arcade Fundamental Middle School. The junior now plays the saxophone, clarinet and guitar and has built close friendships with other band students.

"I know my daughter is at El Camino High, which is huge and I know she is at the high school in the band room every day during (early-morning) zero period," Wendy Phoenix said. "They work so hard, and they have nowhere to play."

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