Coronado unveils new auditorium to satisfied crowd

       In a light-hearted style that belied the agonizing that went into the planning and construction, Coronado High unveiled its new auditorium Sept. 27 to about 450 students, staff, district officials and citizens.
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The new auditorium, as seen this week from the outside, with the newly added school name on the rear (east) wall.
Westside Pioneer photo
The original Coronado auditorium, as seen in May 2007, before demolition/construction began.
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       The grand-opening event featured elements of all the school's performing arts groups, introductions of principal individuals and self-guided tours for the public. Only in the jokes by the emcees, Principal Susan Humphrey and Assistant Principal David Engstrom - the two most active Coronado administrators in the project - were there hints at the work and effort involved in bringing the long-delayed, unexpectedly costly project to fruition.
       Engstrom, in a brief monologue stating project numbers, paused after saying "number of gray hairs?" before answering his own question: "Countless."
       Humphrey compared the ordeal to having a child. "You think you're in control, but then you start throwing up," she half-joked.
       But the audience just seemed happy to be there, as Engstrom found out right away. His first words were, "Welcome to our new auditorium," and before he could go on, spontaneous applause filled the hall.
       "That was an unplanned pleasantry," he said afterward. "People were so excited to see it for the first time."
       He shared with the crowd how really new the place was. Final drywall work had actually been taking place just 27 hours earlier, and "you may be the first people to sit in these seats," he said. "What do you think?"
       "All right!" was the predominant cry.
       Humphrey introduced the inaugural performing group (the school's Wind Ensemble, playing "Africa: Ceremony, Song and Ritual," directed by band instructor Alan Combs). "And now we'll open the curtain for the very first time," she said, "and ladies and gentlemen, you can watch me cry."
       Other student performances consisted of a combined song by the Chamber Orchestra and the Shomber Choir (led by choir instructor Jeff Hodur), the Chamber Orchestra (orchestra instructor Mindi Loewen), a one-scene comedy by drama students, the Shomber Choir (Hodur); Jazz Band 1 (Combs); and a combined presentation by drama students (drama instructor Elizabeth Kahn) on stage and orchestra students (Loewen) in the new orchestra pit.
       Before the Chamber Orchestra played, Alexis Rodarmel, its student president, was given a chance to speak. She described the auditorium as "long-awaited. It gives me goosebumps to be here tonight. We're so incredibly grateful."
       Afterward, attendees were invited to look around the new auditorium or go backstage. There, they could see students and teachers together putting away props and other items used for the performances. Combs, wearing a tuxedo, was seen helping students move tables. Asked if he wasn't worried about creasing the tuxedo, he just grinned.
       School District 11 dignitaries on hand included board members John Gudvangen, Bob Null and Sarah Mann; and high administrators Mary Thurman, Mike Poore and Mike Maloney.
       Humphrey gave a special thanks to Maloney, the district's facilities director, who had to keep finding money from school bond savings elsewhere to make up a roughly $3.5 million cost overrun. In the taxpayer-approved bond issue from 2005, the auditorium had been estimated at $1.4 million.
       Coronado students had been without an auditorium since the end of the 2006-07 school year. Other than a few side "bump-outs" to add lobby or classroom/ backstage space, the new structure is on the site of the original auditorium from the high school's opening in 1970, next to the school parking lot. The work was initially planned for completion in December '07, reusing the old cement-block exterior walls, but when those walls had to be torn down instead, completion got delayed until the current school year.
       The 792 seats are more than twice as many as the old auditorium had - due to a much larger balcony and more efficient use of seating on the main floor. Improvements have also been made to the lighting and sound.
       The auditorium is not intended just for school use. Humphrey has offered to rent it out to Westside groups seeking a venue of that size and capability.
       Adding to the auditorium euphoria of Coronado's leaders this week was the installation of large raised letters spelling out "Coronado High School" on the back (east) side of the building - large enough to be read by passing vehicles on Fillmore Street. Previously, the only major school identifier for traffic has been the marquee in the school parking lot, which at times has been blocked from view by parked cars.
       Having the school name emblazoned on the auditorium is "like our signature piece," Engstrom said.
       More goodies are on the way. Still to be hung on the east wall, next to the name, are colorful vertical banners that will identify the three main school elements (performing arts, athletics and academics). "People will look at our campus, and it will really draw their eyes," Engstrom said.
       As for the students and staff, "when we look at the new auditorium, with the freshly planted grass and trees, it's become the heart of our campus. So we're really pleased right now."

Westside Pioneer article