Aging theater needs Measure H funds

There are myriad reasons to support Measure H on the upcoming ballot this June. The simplest may be that now is the time.

After 40 years of faithful service to thousands of acting, music, dance and a cappella classes, hundreds of performances and countless community events, the Alan Harvey Theater is beyond aging gracefully -- it's downright miserable and unsafe on its own two feet. In the 16 years I have been attending performances at AHT, I have watched, felt and experienced all that is amiss with this aging structure.

This past year, for each of the eight performances we attended, I made multiple trips up and down the stairs to guide my parents, one at a time, clumsily to their seats, canes and walkers in tow, and hoped that neither would need a bathroom, let alone need to be evacuated in an emergency. Once there, squirming uncomfortably to avoid protruding seat springs, they struggled to hear the players and see everything clearly on stage. All they wanted to do was watch their granddaughter and her fellow actors and singers.

Measure H represents an opportunity for the community to make a significant long term to the performing arts in the classroom and beyond, just as the commitment to rebuild Witter Field years ago signaled a long-term commitment to athletics. These projects bear fruit for decades and allow kids to develop along multiple dimensions in a safe and technologically current environment.

As a community, we will benefit from better access, more performances, new events made possible by better staging capabilities, and the knowledge that we have a safe, state of the art facility for the next 40 years. Now is the time. Vote yes on Measure H.

Shahan Soghikian

president, PHS Boosters

Make Alan Harvey safe, accessible to all

Piedmont has a long and rich tradition of offering community theater and affordable local entertainment to all. The Alan Harvey Theater at Piedmont High School was at the center of that throughout the '80s and '90s. Our original community theater troupe, Piedmont Light Opera Theater (PLOT), was founded in 1984 by my husband, Hunter McCreary, and Alan Harvey, who was the inspirational teacher for hundreds of PHS students before he was a name on a building.

Even back then, accessibility was a problem with the theater. It was with great difficulty that we were able to seat handicapped patrons at PLOT performances. There are only two wheelchair spaces, and they are in the back of the theater. The stairs are out of the question for these and many other people. The reconfiguration of the house will create accessibility which has not existed before. It will allow handicapped parents and grandparents to see their offspring perform from other than the two spaces at the rear, and the center aisles will allow audience members to exit far more easily and safely in any emergency. Have you ever tried to exit even to go to the restroom during a performance there, particularly if you are sitting in the middle of a row?

This theater serves the entire community, not just the school district or a small group of students. It hosts an education speaker series, the now-world-famous Bird Calling Contest and many community gatherings. If updated and made accessible, Piedmont can once again host vibrant, affordable and local entertainment for all residents from youngsters to seniors. Please join me in supporting Measure H.

Susan McCreary

Piedmont

Renovation proposal wasteful, ineffective

Many articles have been written about the proposed renovation of the Piedmont High School Theater (the Alan Harvey Theater). Many questions have been raised, and there is an ongoing debate in the community about what to do.

Residents probably have received two fliers from the "Yes on H" campaign. Hopefully, they will get from us a postcard which encourages you to visit our website: www.NOOonH.org (note the three Os)."‹

Please take a good look at the issues. Measure H will affect the way future capital projects are conceived by the school board and the district. In our view, the board has been blinded by the success of the Havens School rebuild. The board should have pushed the pause button once it became clear that the initial concept for the theater renovation turned out to be twice as expensive as expected (construction cost rising from $5 million to $10 million).

We all know that the theater needs work. The superintendent has set aside a budget of $500,000 for changing the seats, replacing the HVAC and fixing lighting for safety (such as adding footlights at the edge of the stage).

Performing arts lovers should vote "no," as the proposed project will not fix the major issues with the theater: its low ceiling and its poor acoustics due to the large bay windows. It is also clear that the renovation is overpriced when compared to a new construction.

Folks who feel that the additional educational value for kids performing in public under expensive LED lights and a new control room is not worth the extra expenditure, you should vote "no." Why waste money when since 2008 school programs have been cut, class sizes increased and total instructional days decreased? Yes capital money and operation money do not mix, but they do come from the same wallets. We need to nurture community goodwill so that taxpayers respond generously to the next state school budget cuts.

Finally, those concerned about all the other needs that are in line for capital expenditure on the high school campus should request that the board set priorities for big capital expenses based on a long-term vision rather than letting nuts-and-bolts issues dominate and through scope creep be turned into big projects.

We also are annoyed by the tactics used by the proponents. Scare tactics distort the public debate, undermine trust and take Piedmonters for granted. The theater will not be closed due to lack of ADA compliance, and it can be made more accessible at a low cost. Let us not have these tactics impair our judgment, as the matter is most important for our students.

Whichever position residents end up taking, make sure you cast your vote. Vote using snail mail by registering with the county before 5 p.m. Tuesday, or call 510-272-6973 to request a ballot be mailed.

Bernard Pech

Piedmont Citizens Against Measure H Piedmont

Pet project pushed no matter what

While the political clout of the school groups means that virtually anything they put before the voters will likely pass, the passage of Measure H will be very troubling.

The current renovation lacks set storage, a multimedia facility, a building designed for excellent acoustics and full rigging facilities. The renovation is costing 40 percent more per square foot than the recently completed San Leandro theater with its state-of-the-art facilities.

The theater needs seats, carpet and HVAC. The district has already set aside funds for this work. Measure H advocates insist that the ADA and safety upgrades are legally required yet will not produce any document from a governing agency forcing these upgrades. Measure H advocates assert that the Alan Harvey Theater is a community asset, yet the school board will not lower the current high nonschool use fees.

The board has stated they may consider not having next year's 2 percent escalator on the parcel tax should Measure H pass. This is pure blackmail as the district is in the best financial shape it has been in years. Regardless of Measure H, there need not be a parcel tax escalation.

The current Piedmont parcel tax and taxpayer bond cost burden is the highest in the state with no other district coming close to Piedmont's $2,454 tax for 2014. The school board wishes to keep the bonding capacity and taxpayer cost at the legal maximum with no regard for fixed-income seniors. The board refused to include a senior exemption in the last parcel tax and stated an income-based exemption was illegal when four surrounding districts use that income approach.

Had the school board and district simply said that "We want this expensive renovation, and we don't care about reasonableness because we can get away with it," I could accept that honesty more than the current rhetoric.

Jim McCrea

Piedmont