Superintendent hopes school’s new buildings draw students |

Superintendent hopes school’s new buildings draw students

Dylan Silver

Miles of wiring, dozens of big-screen LCD televisions, sound proof recording studios, editing suites, a tiered orchestra room and a professional-grade theater are just a few of the features of South Tahoe High School’s new Theatre Arts and Design Academy building, set to open in August.

“Everything you’re going to see here today is replicated from professional studios,” said principal Ivone Larson while guiding members of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee through the building.

Though not yet finished, the $9.3 million facility is the flagship of the school district’s “if you build it, they will come,” strategy. Superintendent Jim Tarwater hopes the new high-tech facilities at the high school will help improve performance and turn declining enrollment around.

“We’ve been aggressive with construction because we want to capture kids,” Tarwater said. “They will come, I am convinced. When you have award-winning features and the word gets out you become a beacon.”

The TADA building has received architecture awards and was featured on the cover of School Planning and Management magazine. Both the Green Construction and Transportation building and the Stadium View building have been completed. In coming years, the high school will modernize the gymnasium and build a new student union and sports medicine building.

“You’ve got to have a solid cash flow stream if you’re going to keep marching down the path we’re going,” said Debra Yates, LTUSD’s CFO.

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After all current construction plans are complete – sometime in the 2014/15 school year – the district will have spent $94.3 million on the construction projects. About $61.3 million of this comes from Measure G, while the state put in more than $30 million, designated for construction of career technical education facilities only.

The high school’s CTE programs have and will receive the bulk of the $94.3 million because that is where the state’s matching funds fall, Yates said.

The high school will be monitoring enrollment, graduation rates and average grade-point average to see if the new facilities have a noticeable impact, Tarwater said.

“When you engage kids, they are motivated to achieve,” he said.

The school will launch a campaign to promote its new buildings and, hopefully, attract new students and families to the area. One family has already toured the new buildings and decided to move to South Lake Tahoe, Tarwater said. Representatives of schools from around the country and from other countries have also toured the facilities.

“People will see it as, ‘I love my kid and I want them to have this opportunity,'” Tarwater said.

The TADA building will house workshops, classes and performances throughout the summer, providing extra money for the school district as well as a place for the community to gather, Tarwater said. The school will work with the Lake Tahoe Educational Foundation and other organizations to publicize the building and its events, he said.

Yates is quick to note that the dollars from Measure G and the accompanying funds from the state can only be used for construction. The school district does pursue grants for teachers and teaching programs, but similar amounts aren’t readily available.

“Where there are opportunities we certainly are taking advantage of them,” she said, pointing to a $250,000 grant they received recently. “There just aren’t as many.”

The committee toured the halls and rooms of new building, even climbing the spiral stair case to the upper level of the theater where lighting and production crews will creep around on silent mesh wired flooring. City Councilwoman Angela Swanson was impressed and, as someone who fought for Measure G during a time when suggestions for new taxes in the flailing economy weren’t well received, gratified.

“It brings tears to your eyes,” she said. “This is equal or better to any facility I’ve ever seen.”

The group joked the screening room, with its giant space for a big screen, would make a terrific spot for a Super Bowl party, though more likely to be used for class Skype sessions with students from around the world. They listened to the security measures that the school will take to protect the building. They gaped at the television studio.

“I have a broadcast journalism degree and, you know, our facilities weren’t this nice,” said Ginger Nicolay-Davis, a member of the oversight committee.

Most of the construction on the building will be finished by the end of June, said LTUSD facilities manager Steve Morales, and later in the summer staff will be introduced to their new digs.

“Primarily by the end of June, it’s going to be down to training and commissioning, which will be quite a process, just learning how to use this facility,” said project manager Joe Stewart, who works for the contractor. SMC Comstruction.