At last, Bear River breaks ground for arts center |

At last, Bear River breaks ground for arts center

Nearly every day, Cherry Hayes rubs a small swatch of velour for good luck.

The square represents curtains to be installed at Bear River High School’s long-overdue performing arts center.

Next to the square are samples of the 412-seat theater’s flooring, carpeting, and a mock-up of just what the new facility will look like.

“I really think we’re going to have one of the finest (facilities) anywhere,” the Bear River choral director said Wednesday, the eve of today’s official groundbreaking of Bear River’s $9.4 million performing arts and aquatics center.

Come next May, Hayes won’t have to spend weeks turning the staid multipurpose room into a virtual New York City skyline for the annual Starlight Express performance choir’s spring gala. The drama department will have its own “green room” for changing costumes and relaxing between scenes.

By this winter, the completion of a 25-yard pool will give Bear River’s water polo and swim teams, long relegated to practicing at the Memorial Park or Nevada Union pools, their own place to play.

Today’s groundbreaking comes one year late and nearly $1 million over budget as school officials worked to rid the former trap-shooting range of thousands of pounds of arsenic and lead-laced soil.

It’s a day that can’t come too soon for south county residents or Hayes, who has been promising a new venue to parents for some time.

For two straight years, Hayes has indicated to parents that this would be the last year they’d have to cram into the multipurpose room for a performance.

This time, it will be the truth.

“I just feel that our kids are worthy of being put on a stage,” said Hayes, noting the multipurpose room’s lack of one. “Artistically, we’ve grown out of that facility, and we’re extremely excited about this new one.”

So, too, are the administrators responsible for building the new facility, which has been dogged by a bloated budget brought on by rising construction costs and a nearly year-long effort to rid the area of toxic soil.

District officials discovered lead on the site of the performing arts center nearly a year ago, and in September revealed that traces of arsenic were found on the site of the adjacent pool complex.

The district has spent nearly $800,000 in testing, compiling and carting the soil to two different toxic waste dumps.

Earth movers are now buzzing over the formerly toxic sites, grading the dirt and laying pipe.

“Everybody’s been patiently waiting. It’s very exciting to see this move beyond the soil issue and into the construction phase,” said Paul Palmer, the Nevada Joint Union High School District’s director of facilities.

The majority of the project is paid for by a $15 million bond approved by voters in 2002. Developer fees paid for the soil excavation and removal.

Many south county residents have been waiting eight years for this, an expansion that many believe completes Bear River High School.

“It’s high time that we get going on this,” said Roger White, a Bear River parent who worked on the initial plan to find funding for the school’s library and aquatics/performing arts center. “It’s hard to believe that, 18 years after the school opened, it has taken this long.”

While the library was completed in 2002, the aquatics and performing arts center lagged as district officials waited for approval from the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Ralph Schaffarzick, a Lake of the Pines resident who helped assemble grassroots meetings supporting Bear River’s completion, called the waiting process “frustrating.”

Now, a new, more hopeful waiting process begins.

“We’re just delighted that we’re getting this under way,” said school board member John Renwick, who represents the Bear River area.

“We all voted for the money, and it’s nice to see it going to good use.”

Details of the Bear River High School performing arts/aquatics center:

• Performing arts center: 412-seat theater, foyer and “green room” for changing costumes. Control room will double as recording studios for performers. 10,684 square feet. Expected completion date: May of 2006.

• Pool: 25-yard pool, includes showers. Expected completion date: December of 2005.

• Cost: Total cost is $9.4 million. The construction cost is $6.8 million, paid via the district’s Measure A bond passed by voters in March 2002. The remaining money includes engineering, soil analysis and excavation. Soil removal money is from developer fees, paid to school districts by builders to compensate for increase of students.

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