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$8-Million Theater Plans May Have to Be Scaled Down

June 14, 1987|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

WHITTIER — Plans for Whittier College's $8-million performing arts center may be scaled down because school officials underestimated the cost of the structure.

The project, the most ambitious in the school's 100-year history, was originally to be finished this year. But construction has yet to begin, and college officials now indicate that the first performances at the arts center may not take place until 1990.

A sign at the arts center site announcing a completion date of December, 1987, has been repainted to delete any reference to when the facility will open.

A More Realistic Date

College officials last year said a more realistic completion date would be mid-1988. Last week, college President Eugene S. Mills said his goal is to break ground before the end of this year. Construction is expected to take 18 to 24 months.

"It just takes a long time to get these things done," Mills said. "I don't see it as a delay. It's extremely complicated to bring these things together."

Of the $8 million, $5.5 million was to pay for the building, $1.5 million for design and survey costs and $1 million for the college's endowment to maintain the facility.

But school officials recently discovered that $5.5 million is not enough to pay for the 30,000-square-foot arts complex they wanted, and they are now having to reconsider the design, said Donald Stewart, communications director for the college. Plans for a 500-seat theater will remain intact, but officials are discussing combining a rehearsal hall and an experimental theater to cut costs, he said.

Design Studied for Year

Officials of the drama and music departments took about a year to agree on the design that is now in doubt. It includes the two-level, 500-seat auditorium for music and drama programs, the 100-seat experimental theater with a mobile stage and seating, the rehearsal hall, a classroom, dressing rooms and storage areas.

The college has never attempted a project on this scale, and "it's not very surprising that it's a convoluted process," Stewart said.

About $4 million has been raised for the center so far, and it will be up to the board of trustees to decide whether construction should proceed without the entire $8 million in hand, Stewart said.

Stewart declined to release the college's annual budget. But according to a column by Douglas Kinsey, vice-president for college advancement, published in the winter 1986-87 edition of the alumni magazine, the college's 1986-87 budget was $13 million.

Also, the center cannot be completed until three buildings--admissions, student affairs and the student health center--can be moved to another area of the campus. The rest of the arts center site at the corner of Philadelphia Street and Painter Avenue is vacant. Mills said the buildings do not have to be moved before construction can begin.

Fire Destroyed Old Center

The private liberal arts college of about 1,100 students has been without an on-campus performing arts center since 1968, when fire destroyed a building that housed the theater used by the drama and music departments. Since then, students have had to perform in the campus chapel, the faculty center or the Whittier Community Center.

Mills said constructing a performing arts center would promote a progressive image for the college and has been a top priority since he became president eight years ago.

"It's our premier project," Mills said. "We want to create a center that will provide new opportunities in the arts. It gives expression to one of the things we hold dear."

The City of Whittier is not helping to pay for the center, but council members generally have agreed to participate in public works improvements to support the facility, City Manager Thomas Mauk said.

The city cannot officially approve plans for its improvements around the center until a definite design is submitted, Mauk said. The council is to consider this summer a proposed budget resolution that includes $200,000 for street and sidewalk improvements in the area.

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