Roof, walls on Coronado High’s old auditorium taken down in snowstorm

       A semblance of normality was returning to Coronado High School this week, now that most of the old auditorium has been torn down. Backhoes from project contractor Gerald H. Phipps
Construction chew up debris from the old Coronado High
School auditorium amid swirling snowflakes in the late afternoon Dec. 8. 
Courtesy of Ryan McAllister
       The work had been so intense leading up to the snowy weekend of Dec. 8-9 - the scheduled time for the major demolition phase of the $4.9 million project - that the performing arts classes on the other side of the auditorium hallway had to be temporarily relocated as a safety precaution. This resulted in a musical chairs situation in which “we had to kind of scramble, move things around and put them in different places,” Assistant Principal David Engstrom said.
       From the preceding Monday until about the middle of this week, the band and choir were practicing in the auxiliary gym and community room, respectively; an unusually large number of P.E. classes were training in the gym and German teacher Sharon Bronson-Sheehan was giving up her classroom for the orchestra. “Everybody was tremendously flexible,” Engstrom said.
       But he reserved special praise for project contractor Gerald H. Phipps' crews, who worked through the Dec. 8 snowstorm to finish taking down the old roof and three walls (on the east, north and south sides).
       “I was amazed,” Engstrom said. “These guys are top-notch. They [Phipps] came highly recommended, and they're living up to all their billing.”
       “It was a cold, snowy day,” recalled Jeff Brisk, the project superintendent for Phipps, noting how, ironically, the weather had been dry and relatively balmy for a number of days beforehand. However, with the entire school entry fenced off for the weekend effort and the schedule at stake, there was no choice but to move forward as expeditiously as possible, he said.
       As it turned out, the Phipps crews knocked the walls and roof down by the end of Dec. 8, allowing the project's chainlink fence to be moved back to its usual location - surrounding just the auditorium project area - in plenty of time for the resumption of school Monday, Dec. 10.
       Engstrom chuckled over a joke Brisk had made to him after the weekend, that “they've given us a nice outdoor ampitheater.”
       Less dramatic demolition work was continuing this week - the block-by-block removal of the west wall, down to a certain point above the hallway itself. After that, Brisk explained, it will be a matter of removing debris, digging out footers that had been poured before the problem with the old walls was found, and then starting construction of the new auditorium.
       Until last month, the plan had been to remove only the old roof, keeping the existing walls and raising them the necessary 18 feet to accommodate a higher roof and larger balcony. But the discovery that the old blocks were hollow - instead of filled with rebarred concrete as the 1968 plans had shown - forced a change of plans. Everything had to come down, and all-new walls had to be built. The new facility is now set for completion in July, about half a year later (and $450,000 greater cost) than expected when the blueprints were finalized last spring.
       The project is funded through the District 11 bond issue that was approved by voters in 2005.
       Meanwhile, Coronado is borrowing other high schools' auditoriums for its performing arts students' shows throughout this year - for example, the holiday-season instrumental and choir concerts at Mitchell High Dec. 11-13.
       A future silver lining is taking shape in discussions between Coronado High students and project architects about dressing up the formerly mono-color auditorium east wall (the one facing the parking lot). According to Engstrom, the tentative plan is to build the new wall to include a few large panels which could have specialized colors, designs or words. The panels would also be relatively interchangeable allowing students to put in a different design every few years, if they wanted to. “I'm sure the school colors will come out (in the initial design), but we'll leave that to the kids,” Engstrom said.
       An informal tribute to the demolished auditorium was put on the project's perimeter fence this week by members of the senior class. According to Engstrom, the poster-paper sign read, “Thanks for the memories - 1970-2007.”

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