Performing arts backers gain momentum in pursuit of Sacramento campus

Arts supporters are getting a boost from the Sacramento City Unified School District, which has agreed to lease the former Fremont School for Adults to the city of Sacramento for a performing arts campus.

The 6-0 vote last week by the school board caps a multiyear effort to create a community arts venue. An earlier proposal, at 14th and H streets, fell short in fundraising efforts as the recession took hold. This time, advocates say, the project has been scaled back from $24 million to about $6.5 million.

Under the plan, the school district will lease the 49,000-square foot site at 2420 N St. to the city for 40 years at $1 a year. In exchange, the center will strengthen arts education through music, dance and theater performances in classrooms and at schools. The program will also provide scholarships, summer camps and arts internships.

The City Council, in turn, is expected to vote next month on a sublease of the building to the nonprofit Studios for the Performing Arts Operating Co., a corporation created to run the center.

The nonprofit is governed by members of the arts community. Key players on the board of directors, including the Sacramento Ballet, California Musical Theatre and Sacramento Opera and Philharmonic, plan to lease portions of the building for their operations.

“It’s a perfect storm of collaboration,” said Richard Rich, president of Studios Operating Co. Rich said the planning to rehab the project site has begun with pro bono work by two Sacramento firms. Plans call for dance studios, rehearsal and performance space, classrooms, offices and common areas.

Those companies – architects Dreyfuss & Blackford and construction managers Rudolph & Sletten – are expected to seek a permit within weeks, Rich said.

The Fremont School for Adults closed in June 2012 during a round of budget cuts. Sacramento City Unified, like other districts, opted to use adult education money to pay for K-12 classes and shuttered the adult campus that had operated for nine decades.

After the closure, homeless people began to congregate outside the traditional brick building, whose grounds cover an entire city block in midtown. Project leaders say the overhaul will not only boost the arts but the surrounding environs as well.

“You’ve got a neighborhood cratering now around a vacant and declining facility,” Rich said, describing it as a “hangout for homeless and derelict people – people doing drugs in the doorway.”

The change, he said, will be dramatic. “This whole neighborhood will be re-energized with this wonderful cultural center,” he said.

The renewed site will be known as the E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts, Rich said. Joyce Raley Teel, daughter of E. Claire Raley, is the prime benefactor.

Last week, about 30 members of the arts community and their supporters voiced their enthusiasm for the project.

Gerry Kamilos, a prominent local developer, urged school board members to approve the plan.

“Having a tenant committed and obligated to bring this asset from a state of disrepair ... for the mutual benefit of district students and community alike without risk or liability to the district ... is truly in the district’s best interest,” Kamilos said.

Board members were supportive but a few had questions.

Member Jay Hansen said he was concerned about the 40-year length of the lease. But, he said, the value of the project benefits both the district’s students and the community.

Board member Gustavo Arroyo asked for assurances that students throughout the district, from all backgrounds, will have access to the program. He, too, called the plan “a great step forward.”