First Look | Community members tour new Performing Arts Center and STEAM building

Julie Reichle

The view of the theater from the stage

On Saturday, May 3, the PUSD Facilities Steering Committee (FSC) helped the school district host an open house of the newly completed PHS Performing Arts Center along with a tour of the new STEAM building. FSC member and former school board member Doug Ireland, who helped to organize guided tours by other committee members and Piedmont Education Foundation volunteers, was more than pleased with the turnout. “We had about 110 folks show up for the 20+ minute tours,” he said. “Feedback was incredibly positive — and it made many wish they could go back and relive high school just so they could experience learning in these amazing spaces.”

Tours began in front of the STEAM building with a brief overview of landscaping and the low-water, native plants, efficient irrigation, and“bioretention” basins. The basins channel and filter rainwater, preventing it from overloading the city’s storm sewer system. They also act to filter bacteria, sediments, and pollutants from the rainwater as it flows underground and ultimately to the San Francisco Bay.

Visitors learned how the STEAM building is designed to minimize environmental impacts, consuming as little energy as possible and generating enough solar energy to offset energy use.

PEF volunteer and tour guide Eileen Ruby explains the landscaping choices and the “bioretention” basins which help to filter rainwater.

Interviews with attendees | Claire Reichle

Name: David Ferguson, parent of a 10th and 8th graders

Have you seen any of the new buildings before? No I haven’t! My 10th grader has been telling me about the amazing view from math class, but this is the first time that I’ve been to either of these buildings.

What are your impressions walking through the buildings today? Oh I just love it. It’s great to see, especially the theater, to actually see it in real life. The plans looked wonderful, but to actually see it — it’s an amazing space.

What are you most excited for with the new buildings? Our 8th grader is interested in musical theater, so the timing is ideal for him to step into high school. The facilities are amazing. I also can’t wait to see upcoming shows in the space. It’s wonderful to see it actually done – it’s fantastic. 

Mary Ann Benson | Community member and former PUSD music teacher

What’s your impression of seeing the theater for the first time?: Let me give you a little background first. I taught in Piedmont for 17 years. I taught elementary vocal music and I worked on many of the plays that were held in the old theater. To come in here and see this — the beautiful layout, the raked upper area where the stage will be so visible, the booth where I spent so many hours in the old theater — I am just blown away and so excited.

Will you tell us more about your teaching experience at Piedmont and if you are still involved in the community, seeing shows? I’ve been to three shows already this year that Amy Moorhead has done. I can’t wait to see them performing on this stage with this space because in the old theater, there was very little backstage room. This has ample room, it has a classroom for the drama class which they’ve never had before. She was teaching on the stage so when the orchestra had to rehearse they had to go somewhere else. It’s phenomenal and I’m so excited.

What does it mean to you for students to have access to arts education? I think it’s very important in this day and age that we keep the arts up and going. It speaks to a number of students who may not be heard otherwise. 

PHS junior and tour guide Hannah Ward in front of her artwork on display in the new theater lobby

Hanna Ward | Junior at Piedmont High School

I am in AP Art, and we had our art show on Thursday in the new theater building lobby. A lot of people came to the show and it was so fun to see everyone’s art and talk about my art with others.

What has it been like for you and other students to have the new STEAM building and theater?: It’s really nice. I love having the materials and space to be able to do my art. It’s a lot better in the new building, it’s so open — I feel very inspired in the space.

It’s super exciting that the new theater is opening soon. It’ll be really nice to see the plays and shows all set into place in the new theater.

Joy and Dick Hunt | Parents of PHS grads from 2011 and 2015

What were your impressions of the buildings? They’re beautiful buildings. Our older son is already jealous of the theater building because he was in acting during his time in Piedmont. It was a beautifully done tour. It was fun that we got to see it and fabulous that it was open for us to see.

Are you excited to see any productions coming up?: Absolutely! We’re excited to see productions here when it’s up and running for shows.

What memories do you have from the old theater?: We remember the kids having to run outside to change. It was wonderful that we even had a theater, but so nice that we have this new and improved building to do it in.

Sue Smegal toured the new facilities with with one of PEF’s founding members, Cameron Wolfe

Sue Smegal | Former PUSD parent, PMS teacher, and PUSD school board member

What was your impression walking through the new buildings today?: On our tour the first room I saw was a science lab. It was amazing! I could hardly believe my eyes. This room was designed to inspire students and teachers. I can imagine students feeling that they could reach for the stars, that anything is possible.

What does it mean to you that students will have access to excellent arts and science education?: I feel very fortunate to be part of a community where residents value and support education. When I looked at the faces of the people on our tour, I saw a founding member of the Piedmont Education Foundation, people who worked on Piedmont’s first parcel tax, people who ran successful parcel tax and bond campaigns and many parent volunteers.

Anything else you want to add? As I visited the other rooms and the beautiful new theater, I felt gratitude to all those who made these buildings possible and very happy for our teachers and students.

“Such enthusiasm for a stunning finished product. The challenges we faced and tough decisions along the way paid off.”

John Gibbs | Landscape architect, urban designer and longtime committee member led several tours through the facilities and echoed Ireland’s take on the day

Scenes from Saturday’s tours | Photos by Julie Reichle

(Editor’s note: Doug Ireland is the husband of Exedra co-founder and editor Mary Ireland.)

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