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Los Altos, MV high schools get set for grand opening of new theaters

Contrasting the Los Altos School District struggles to make ends meet, the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District will cap a feel-good communitywide fund-raising effort with the official opening of the high schools' theaters this Friday and Saturday.

The high schools' seemingly good fortune reflects vastly different circumstances from their elementary counterparts. The theater openings are coming at the end of a successful facilities renovation project funded by a $58 million bond measure in 1995. The yearlong community campaign to supplement theater construction came well before the elementary school district's budget crisis and subsequent Save Our Staff campaign.

While high school district supporters sympathized with the elementary school district problems, it wasn't enough to curb excitement among everyone involved, from Superintendent Rich Fischer, staff and students to committee members of the fund-raising group, the Performing Arts Facilities Fund.

"It's amazing we've come this far from a year ago," said Mountain View High parent Nanette Freedland, whose committee raised $307,000 among 325 donors as of last week. The money will fund theater fixtures ranging from 90 spotlights to 18 line sets, audio/video equipment, grand pianos and acoustical shells.

In the interests of promoting equality between the two schools, the 350-seat theaters are virtually identical. The only noticeable difference is in the color schemes. Los Altos' is red and black, Mountain View's, brown and cream.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation of Los Altos also was a big contributor to the $550,000 needed to fund improvements at both theaters. The foundation paid for the quality seats installed in both theaters. Bond funding accounts only for the actual construction, estimated at $4 million per theater.

"The only way we were going to have more than a big room with some cheap seats in it was through community funding," said Los Altos Councilman John Moss, also a member of the fundraising committee along with fellow council member Lou Becker and Los Altos Hills Councilman Bob Fenwick.

Other community leaders on the Performing Arts Facilities Fund include El Camino Hospital director Ed Bough of Los Altos, Judy Hannemann, the high school district board president, Margot Harrigan, president of the Los Altos School District board, Los Altos High principal George Perez and Mountain View principal Pat Hyland.

Fischer enthused over the design of the theaters as final preparations were being made last week. He said the design started with the large, 2,223-square-foot stage, which can accommodate up to 90 seated musicians and allows for a variety of performances from dance to concerts and theater productions. Under an agreement with the school district, the theaters will be open to the community 20 percent of the time, as long as community use does not conflict with student use.

The front of the stage is adjustable at three levels: stage level for additional space; audience level for three additional rows; and below the audience for use as an orchestra pit.

"The theater is big enough so that an entire class could assemble," Moss said. "Los Altos has never had a performing arts facility that was more than a multipurpose room."

The Mountain View and Los Altos theaters are part of a building that also houses the schools' cafeterias and eating areas. Encircling the theater space are myriad side and back rooms that include boys and girls dressing rooms, restrooms, and even a room for storage of a grand piano that can be easily rolled onto the stage.

"This says so much about a community that values the performing arts," said Los Altos High parent and committee member Tania Granoff.

Freedland noted that the presence of an actual theater means a unifying of the schools' performing arts communities - groups previously had to rent space at venues around town to perform. In addition, those in interested in theater production now have an opportunity to gain experience directly at school.

"When those (construction work) fences come down, the whole community's just going to go, 'wow!'" she said.

Friday's gala event is at Los Altos High School, and Saturday's is at Mountain View. Both events begin at 6:30 p.m., and will include 90 minutes of choral, instrumental and dance performances by students.

The Main Street Singers will be among the acts performing at Los Altos High School. Admission is $50. For more information or to make a donation, call 949-5679.

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