News Column

SRJC's Newman Auditorium goes dark

August 4, 2014

By Jamie Hansen, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.



Aug. 04--The show did not go on.

Just as the Thursday evening performance of "The Odd Couple" was beginning at Santa Rosa Junior College'sNewman Auditorium, the lights went dark -- and not for dramatic effect.

An electrical breaker had tripped, SRJC officials say, cutting off power to Emeritus Hall -- home to the roughly 200-seat auditorium -- and causing the performance to be canceled.

Starting Friday morning, the school began working with an electrical contractor to fix the problem, but without a solution by Saturday night, the school's Summer Repertory Theatre was forced to cancel the remaining summer shows in the auditorium, including four performances of "Present Laughter" and two of "The Odd Couple."

Efforts to restore power to the building continued through Monday, as school officials raced to correct the problem before school starts in two weeks.

"We are working diligently to restore electricity this week prior to folks returning next week and classes starting again (the following week)," said SRJC spokeswoman Ellen Maremont Silver.

It's taking a while to pinpoint the source of the problem because of the age and complexity of the building's power system, said Tony Ichsan, dean of facilities, planning and operations. Electricians are having to test the system, circuit by circuit, to find which one is the problem. There's about two dozen circuit panels to inspect. Then they'll have to diagnose what's causing that circuit to fail and fix it. Meanwhile, the college is preparing to order a new circuit breaker and transformer in case either of those items are part of the problem.

Even if they're not, it's a good time to replace them, Ichsan said. He didn't yet know how much that would cost.

Emeritus Hall, built in 1978, is running on its original power system, he said. It's also one of the most heavily used buildings on campus. Newman is a popular lecture hall and most of the college's language classes and social science classes are held there.

It's in need of electrical and other upgrades and is one of the "key examples" the college is using as it promotes the passage of a bond measure that would raise $410 million for facility and technology upgrades, Ichsan said.

Silver said, "It's a great example of how our aging buildings really need some help."

Just two months ago, the school brought in a consultant to test the building's circuit breakers, Ichsan said. At the time, the consultant said the breakers were fine.

"It just demonstrates how, after the life cycle of equipment is reached, it degrades very quickly, especially when it's frequently used," he said.

Meanwhile, the actors who spent the summer preparing to perform "The Odd Couple" and "Present Laughter" are heartbroken, said the theater's artistic director James Newman.

"It's been really hard for the patrons and the students who invested so much time not to be able to finish the season," he said. "But these things happen, we're not in control of the buildings."

When the power went out, the theater group "went into problem-solving mode," he said. They tried moving their Friday performance of "Present Laughter" to another on-campus venue. But the space just wasn't right for the play.

"The actors were amazing, the audience was terrific, but it didn't work out," he said.

He added that theatergoers have been very supportive, in many cases donating the cost of their ticket back to the program. The Repertory Theater, in its 43rd year, features 104 student actors recruited from around California and other states and has a loyal following, he said.

The theater is offering people who'd already bought the $15 to $25 tickets the chance to get a refund or exchange their tickets for remaining Summer Repertory performances at the larger Burbank Auditorium. Because most of the remaining performances of the other three plays were already sold out, the theater had added an extra Saturday performance of "A Chorus Line" at 2 p.m. to accommodate more people. Anyone wishing to purchase a ticket can call the box office at 527-4343.

___

(c)2014 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

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Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)


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