Stage set for Camas’ Garver Theater revamp

Construction on historic theater to begin this spring

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Octavio Gutierrez, an associate with Mahlum Architects, shows an illustration of the future Joyce Garver Theater lobby to the Camas school board on Monday, Jan. 13. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

One of the final pieces of the $119 million construction bond passed by Camas School District voters in February 2016 — the renovation of the historic Joyce Garver Theater — is set to begin this spring.

Heidi Rosenberg, the school district’s capital programs director, told Camas School Board members Monday that construction on the Camas theater is expected to occur from April 2020 to April 2021.

Staff at the city of Camas are currently reviewing building permits for the project, and recently released a Determination of Non-Significance stating that the proposed project will not adversely impact the environment.

Mahlum Architects, the Seattle- and Portland-based firm that designed Lacamas Lake Elementary, the Camas district’s newest grade school, also are charged with designing the Garver Theater renovations.

On Monday, Mahlum representatives took school board members through a short video presentation of what the new theater might look like by the summer of 2021.

“Walking into the theater … the acoustics are great, so we’re not doing too much to mess with the acoustics,” Octavio Gutierrez, a Mahlum associate, said Monday as he pointed to the video showing an open lobby with windows overlooking downtown Camas and Columbia River, which leads into a first-floor theater space that will be freshly painted with re-upholstered seats. “The idea is that all of this just has a nice, fresh, modern look to it.”

Built in 1936, the theater was an addition to Camas High School until the 1970s, when the high school was demolished. In the mid-1980s, the theater got a slight upgrade, with a new entry and a few interior revamps. Used as a performance center by the school district and the Camas community until the district closed the building in 2009 due to safety concerns, the theater stands out in the memories of many longtime Camas-Washougal residents.

Doreen McKercher, the school district’s communications director, told the Post-Record in 2019 that many people remember the theater and its namesake, Joyce Garver, a former Camas drama, music and art teacher.

“Some people remember her, and they have a tie to it,” McKercher said of Garver. “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.”

Along with building Lacamas Lake Elementary and Discovery High schools, and upgrading several athletic fields, the renovation of the defunct Garver Theater was a priority in the school district’s 2016 construction bond.

“The renovation to bring it back to life required an investment,” school board member Doug Quinn told the Post-Record in 2019.

Richard Reiter, the current campaign chair for the Camas-Washougal Community Chest, a grant-funding nonprofit that gives tens of thousands to local nonprofits and education programs each year, remembers the theater from the days when he and his wife, Marianne, were on the board of directors for the Camas Performing Arts Series.

“We presented four to five concerts a season at the Joyce Garver Theater,” Reiter said this week. “Most of the artists that performed there commented on the wonderful acoustics in the theater itself.”

Reiter said he believed a renovated theater would not only be a great asset for the school district but would also be a great place for community concerts.

Current plans call for the renovated theater to “be used for a variety of school and community productions while providing supplementary, flexible community education spaces to the district’s community education program.”

The theater is located next to Liberty Middle School at the corner of Northeast 15th Avenue and Northeast Garfield. Plans call for the building’s east classroom wing to be demolished. Eventually, the theater will seat more than 700 people, have an open lobby with a flexible floorplan and get upgrades to its auditorium, balcony and stage as well as a greenroom/classroom in the northwest corner and new restrooms.

The architects will present a longer “walk-through” video to the school district’s Garver Theater community visioning committee on Jan. 23. Rosenberg said the district will open bids for the project on March 17, and present more information at the school board’s March 23 meeting.