Stage set for Garver Theater revamp

Renovation of Camas High building part of $120M bond passed in 2016

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Construction on the Joyce Garver Theater could begin in May 2020. Camas School District leaders approved a $1.45 million contract for design and construction administration services this week.

Three years after voters approved a $10.4 million renovation of Camas High School’s Garfield Performing Arts facility as part of the Camas School District’s $120 million construction bond, the stage is set to revive the historic Joyce Garver Theater inside the Garfield building.

The Camas School District (CSD) board of directors approved a motion at their Monday meeting to award a contract to Portland-based Mahlum Architects for professional design and construction administration services for the Garfield Building/Garver Theater remodel project.

The contract is in the amount of $1,383,820. The district’s Capital Programs department requested an additional $69,191 to accommodate potential changes in required work for a total of $1,453,011.

Eventually, the Garver theater will be used for school district and community purposes, with programs managed by Camas Community Education and geared toward all ages.

Despite garnering voter approval as part of the same bond that built the new Lacamas Lake Elementary and Discovery High schools in Camas, the Garfield/Garver project hit a roadblock in 2017 after state legislators let a water-rights dispute tie up passage of a capital budget and left more than a dozen school districts caught waiting for state-matching funds for projects like the Garver theater renovation.

District leaders said in 2017 that they were “postponing visioning work until spring 2018.”

Named after Joyce Garver, a longtime Camas drama, music and art teacher, the theater has been closed for a decade due to safety concerns, and many new Camas residents don’t even know it exists.

“Some people remember (Garver) and they have a tie to it,” CSD communications director Doreen McKercher told the Post-Record in February. “They remember having performances there. It was still open when my kids would use it in elementary school. There’s a whole range of ages of people who have a connection to this. There’s also a group of people that are newer to the community that have no idea what it is. It’s a mix.”

The theater has deep roots in the Camas community. Constructed in 1936 as an addition to the original Camas High School, it is the only remaining portion of the district’s first high school. The district upgraded the building in 1985 and added an entryway.

District leaders said they have long intended to modernize the theater.

“The renovation to bring it back to life required an investment,” said Camas school board president Doug Quinn. “Mahlum has been doing preliminary evaluation of the building and helping us analyze what we need to meet current codes. Once the contracts are signed, they’ll move very reasonably and diligently.”

The building, which features two interior staircases and sandstone detailing on south facade, was shuttered in 2009 due to concerns about its seismic integrity.

“Not only was it not up to code, but we just determined that it was dangerous,” McKercher said. “If there had been an earthquake, basically the sides would all just come down immediately. We closed it 10 years ago, and it’s just been sitting there.”

After the renovations are complete, the building will be used for district productions and possibly some community performances.

“We’ve determined that our facilities are pretty booked up,” CSD superintendent Jeff Snell told the Post-Record in February. “People are wanting to perform, and there’s a need for theaters. We’ve also been contacted by community theater groups that would be very interested in partnering. (In that case), it really turns into more of a community asset than a school district asset. It’s really unique for a district to have this opportunity. There’s lots of excitement.”

Mahlum Architects’ proposal includes removing about 12,300 square feet from the building; renovating 18,700 square feet of occupied space, including the theater, lobby and back-of-house spaces; revamping the 8,250-square-foot basement; and adding approximately 3,700 square feet to accommodate a new entry, dressing rooms and a green room.

“The box, the core of it that the theater is in, is amazing acoustically,” Snell said. “It’s kind of renowned in the area for its acoustics, so we really (want to) maintain the integrity of the theater.”

A task force consisting of community members, teachers, board members and architectural specialists came together earlier this year to come up with a vision for the best possible future use of the theater and make recommendations to the school board.

“The task force represents people that have an interest in the theater,” Snell said. “They’ve talked about what’s important to them, our budget, (making sure) we get it up to code and it’s safe, and the features that we (want to) retain and the things that we maybe (could) enhance now that technology has changed.”

Quinn said the group’s priorities for the building include accessibility for differently abled members of the community and the addition of new features such as a green room.

“All we’re able to do with the funding that we have is get it back to life,” Quinn said. “It’s going to be a simple improvement. We listened to a lot of dreams. We really did. There were a lot of tradeoffs that were talked about, (but) we don’t know where the ultimate design will take us.”

Quinn said a group of community members has been attempting to secure additional outside funding to augment the district’s investment.

“We’ve been talking with the city about helping us, because this is a community investment. It’s not just a school investment,” he said. “It’s a community investment to bring back music into a place that’s proximate to downtown, proximate to a lot of our buildings here. It’ll be a great performing arts center.”

Mahlum Architects proposes to start the design process this month, with construction tentatively scheduled to begin in the spring of 2020.