BRAWLEY – Bill Gates and Sal Ortiz, both representatives of the North County Coalition of the Arts, listened intently as school architect Jimmy Sanders of Sanders, Inc. Architectural Engineering, gave a report on Palmer Auditorium.
Palmer Auditorium was damaged during the earthquake swarms in Brawley in late August of this year. Ceiling plaster cascaded down leaving the seats, stage, and electrical equipment covered in dust and debris.
Sanders began his presentation explaining AB 300, a law affecting the Division of State Architect (DSA) that puts all school buildings built before 1976 on a list that says there is a potential risk from earthquakes.
Sanders explained that most of the BUHS campus was built before 1976, including the Junior College building and Palmer Performing Arts Center.
The Junior College Building had a full seismic retrofit in 1984 with the remodel and came out from the earthquake swarms last August without damage.
The DSA architect inspected the campus after the earthquakes and he looked at all the buildings. All passed inspection, but he recommended closing Palmer until seismic repairs could occur. Palmer has been closed ever since.
Sanders said the damage to Palmer was cosmetic. He said what are needed are cosmetic repairs to the ceiling, and that there was no structural damage done to the facility. That entire ceiling structure needs to come down and be replaced with something lightweight. They will replace the thick heavy plaster.
He warned the board that taking the heavy plaster down could cause other structural repairs to be needed.
Sander’s firm is concurrently following up with the Office of Public School Construction ( OPSC ) as well as the DSA. OPEC is the government agency with the money, and BUHS is seeking a Seismic Mitigation Program which will pay for 50% of the cost. By keeping them involved upfront, this expedites the very lengthy process by OPEC by keeping them from being surprised by changes or unaware of plans.
Sanders said, “We could have our drawings finished, submitted, and put bids out already, but we have to go through their process. The project must meet certain criteria such as it has to be the AB 300 list, and many other factors.”
In answer to a time frame, Sanders said that they still don’t know what the scope of work will entail exactly and it would be premature on establishing a construction timeline, but the plans should be finalized by the end of the school year. His conservative guess was Palmer would be ready in a year to a year and a half.
Bill Gates mentioned that other things in the auditorium needed to be fixed. “The dressing rooms are in deplorable shape and some of the seats aren’t functional because they are broken. While we are working on Palmer, let’s fix other problems too. There are things in that building that if you looked at it as a functioning theater arts building we should improve, if possible. “
Sal Ortiz said, “Palmer is a beautiful auditorium. If you tried to replicate that today with construction and acoustics you would spend millions and millions of dollars. It’s a gem. As a musician, when I played with Jimmy Cannon, he didn’t want to play in El Centro. He said ‘Palmer is the best’ and that is where we played. Every performing arts person says, ‘Palmer has the best acoustics’. It’s superb, you can’t buy that anymore. “
Sanders agreed, “When we put a new ceiling back in, we will do everything possible to replicate that same historic look, nor do we want to lose the acoustics or the beauty.”