Hi-Desert Cultural Center Rebuild
The Main Theater Rebuild: What’s Taking So Long and How Have Fundraising Proceeds Been Spent?
What was thought to require substantial renovation unfortunately was determined to require a virtual re-build. This was the result of years of apparent deterioration with no routine maintenance, no capital replacement funding, “Band-Aid” type of repairs, and a lack of accountability and oversight in some of the prior years before the new board took over. We begin with the 2007 flood of the main theater building, but also take a look back at how prior chronic fiscal issues massively increased the costs to repair the iconic building.
The Flood of January 2007
One word for it was “devastating” — not only because it caused so much damage to the interior of the main theater building that the entire interior would have to be largely replaced, but also because it dealt yet another blow to the fragile financial situation of the organization, which less than a year earlier (under different leadership) was heavily in debt, could not pay its bills, suffered from outstanding maintenance issues, and was ready to close.
What We Thought It Was Going to Cost to Repair the Flood Damage
Right after the flood, it appeared that about $168,000 was needed to clean up the flooded building and repair the damage, with a significant portion of that coming from insurance.
Then during the immediate cleanup the water mitigation crews discovered that, unbeknownst to the new board, the fire suppression system had not been maintained and the old HVAC system had been severely malfunctioning (and could not keep up), posing a serious fire and safety hazard. “If the building had not flooded, it would have burned down,” they said. That added about $60,000 more to the required repairs, and was not covered by insurance. Then it was discovered that the roof and gutters were beyond simple repair and needed replacing – adding another $18,000 in costs. Other similar problems were found such that by February 2007, estimates stated that the Cultural Center needed to raise about $150,000 in addition to the monies received from insurance in order to reopen according to the then-required codes.
Not Enough Immediately Raised
Fundraisers and donations made right after the flood raised less than $25,000, far less than needed for even the most basic repairs. The details of the fundraising are shown below. At that point, the only way to keep the Cultural Center operating was to quickly renovate the back Guild Hall to function as a second theater and performance space, which was done in 2007 with all volunteer, but professional-quality, labor and some of the insurance proceeds.
Costs Continued to Rise
As the extent of the deterioration became more apparent, the costs simply to reopen the theater continued to increase dramatically, widening the gap between the necessary funding and how much was brought in from insurance, donations, and fundraisers. The interior electrical was dangerously in disrepair and not to code; prior plumbing repairs in the attic had mismatched materials, improperly done joints, connections, terminations, unsafe water heater placement, and rusted pipes; termite damage was extensive in load-bearing walls; the certification for fire safety on the stage curtains had long-since expired and replacement was now the most cost-effective option; the foam in many of the seats had deteriorated to the point that recovering and replacing the torn and stained upholstery was not feasible; and more. Additionally, because the necessary renovation was substantial, newer ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), earthquake stability, energy efficiency, and water conserving requirements and upgrades would have to be met — meaning that walls would have to be moved, doors and thresholds replaced, latrines and sinks replaced, plumbing and drainage replaced and/or upgraded, supports strengthened, life-saving systems replaced, new seating options added, wheelchair lift purchased, lighting replaced, new insulation, and much more.
Fundraisers & Donations
Many fundraisers were held to raise funds to reopen the theater; and while donors were generous, the level of money needed to repair and reopen the iconic theater while meeting updated ADA, safely, and environmental standards as well as creating a safe, cost-effective and enticing venue for performances, far surpassed the amount raised.
- Radiothon: Soon after the flood, the volunteer coordinated Z107.7 radiothon raised $18,000.
- Blak Tie Soirée (2008): Ticket sales and donations totaled $3,385 net of Vendini ticketing fees.
- Desert Stories: Each year since the flood, the production of Desert Stories has raised funds for the theater re-build. The proceeds have netted about $20,000.
- Ballard Involvement: HDCC received $25,000 from the William J. Gillespie Foundation and less than $10,000 in total donations from other Ballard friends. No funds were received from Ballard. The theater building is no longer going to carry her name.
- Other Local Donors: Donations for the main theater rebuild total less than $30,000 from all other sources, not counting monetary donations from the current board members.
- Contrary to spurious reports, the Cultural Center did not receive $125,000 of funds from San Bernardino County (or any other government entity in any amount). Instead, the County internally used ARRA funds it obtained for shovel-ready projects and paid its contractors and its own management/oversight team as part of the Cultural Center’s ADA upgrade. The Cultural Center had no control of the funds or their use.
Extra Construction/Repair Costs Expended Thus Far for the Front Theater Building (this does not include work contracted for and paid directly by insurance or San Bernardino County from ARRA funding)
- Over $80,000 to install a new roof and 4-zone, whisper-quiet, high-efficiency HVAC system with new ductwork
- Over $24,000 for new fire & life saving systems with county-approved plans
- Almost $14,000 to install new fire doors
- $2,600 for vermin mitigation and attic sanitization
- Over $10,000 for demo and removal of “popcorn” ceiling treatments, hardened sound treatments, interior drywall, actors’ dressing and bathroom floor tiles and laminate, tech booths, seating structures, carpet, overhead stage fluorescent lighting, and permanent stage proscenium
- About $4,150 for termite mitigation and damage repair
- Over $3,600 for immediate need electrical repair
- Over $900 for immediate need plumbing repair
- $2,100 for integrated electrical stage lighting schematic and plans
- Over $36,000 in utilities — HDCC spends at least $300 per month in utilities to simply maintain the front theater building (electricity/fire/water/gas/security) even though it’s not open.
- Over $1,300 in roll-off dumpster rentals for demo debris
- No board members (or their family members) have been hired or paid for this work, and none have been paid for any of the over ten-thousand of hours of volunteer time they have given to rebuild the front theater.
Some Historical Perspective: A Theater Ready to Close
The Cultural Center’s money woes did not start with the January 2007 flood.
Chronic financial shortfalls – Archived meeting minutes for at least five years preceding the flood show a chronic funding shortfall each month – with substantially more outstanding bills than funds in the bank or earned and receivable. There were continuing decisions to forego maintenance and capital replacement expenses in exchange for continuing to fund more production costs without regard to the likely revenue to be generated from the production. Production quality declined, ticket sales and their resultant funds were not tracked electronically, and programs suffered. Ticket sale revenues did not keep up with the bills and donations declined, all without changes in the business plan and an overhaul of the operating structure. While every month’s minutes show a shortfall of funds, the April 6, 2004 board minutes explain, “Bottom line is, something needs to be done to get some money coming into the theater so we can put on quality shows like we want to.” Those same minutes show $4,400 in bills with funds of only $2,200. By March 2006, the organization admitted to having no funds in the bank or on the way and approximately $15,000 in unpaid invoices, with all utilities scheduled for imminent shut-off and all insurance having been cancelled for non-payment.
March 2006 Board transition – In an effort to save the Cultural Center from imminent bankruptcy and closure, the Board of Directors held an emergency meeting to seek new management for the organization. Three groups presented proposals: Al Whitehurst represented Copper Mountain College (the local community college), Gary Daigneault represented Theatre 29 (a non-profit theater organization that performs at the City of Twentynine Palms’ John Calveri Theater), and Jarrod Radnich who represented an organized group of community leaders. With no dissenting votes, the board voted to turn over the corporation to Radnich’s group, who was the only group that agreed to take on the debt and liabilities and turn around the failing organization. Of course, any proposal that did not include taking on the existing liabilities would necessarily fail; for without paying or settling its liabilities the theater organization would have been forced to sell its assets to pay those liabilities, and transferring the assets to another entity to avoid being required to sell them or having them encumbered by a judgment is a fraudulent transfer and is not legal. A copy of the minutes from that meeting, as recorded by Marty Neider the Board’s recording secretary, are available by CLICKING HERE.
The actual outstanding liabilities – Although the unpaid bills were claimed to be about $15,000, the actual outstanding debts and unfunded liabilities were substantially higher, about $75,000. Avoiding shutoff, Radnich (the new president) and leadership personally paid the utility bills immediately from personal funds and forever waived repayment. They then began a workout plan by negotiating reduced bills or monthly payment plans with as many vendors as possible. In that first year alone, personal funds in excess of $30,000 were spent and repayment was waived.
Front Theater Rebuild Photos* (Click images to enlarge and read photo captions.) *Does not include any photos of the extensive renovations performed on the Center’s back theater.
But it was not just the financial bills that posed substantial liabilities – the facilities were in severe need of upgrading and, as the flood revealed, were unfortunately in dire need of repair and primary structure and equipment replacement. Board minutes from 2004 document that the board knew that the facilities needed new electrical wiring, roof work, upgraded backstage, fixing the kitchen, parking lot repair, new carpeting, painting inside and out, lighting upgrades, sound upgrades, replacement hard wiring, electronics work, and for the Guild Hall, central air installation and other significant improvements.
Where are we now?
The Cultural Center has no debt and owns all its facilities, land, equipment, etc. It does not rely on the provision of facilities by any government entity. . . and there is great news: while substantial renovations and improvements have been made with the raised funds and additional proceeds from the Cultural Center’s programs, funding has been fully achieved to complete the rebuild of the main theater building which, working with the structural engineering and architectural firm of Powell & Associates, Inc., is well underway.
THEATER: NEW FEATURES
The Hi-Desert Cultural Center’s grand main theater will feature the latest in state-of-the-art technologies, design, and patron comfort.
- Expanded 300+ seat luxurious theater & performing arts center with raised 20-foot high ceilings
- Irwin Seating’s refined Allegro™ series plush cushioned seating with real wood surfaces and custom cast iron LED-lit ends
- Intimate, finely-appointed, above-audience, Box seating with guilded halo-lit domed Swarovski crystal chandeliers
- Box seating concierge staff, drinks and tappas ordered via glass table-mounted personal touchscreen digital displays located in each Box
- Grand Chandelier above Orchestra seating in a dramatic recessed and guilded halo-lit dome
- Full color LED accent lighting, metal, wood, stone and etched glass accents throughout theater
- Motorized, custom gold-imprinted, plush velvet main curtain
- LED video walls in ultra high-definition 4k resolution located on each side of the house for breathtaking, up-close, live video streaming
- Concessions offering familiar and fine wine & beer, adult beverages, coffees, cappuccinos, tappas and more
- Art gallery in Main Foyer featuring fine art from esteemed local artists
- ADA compliant patron restrooms accented with Swarovski crystal chandeliers, architectural lighting and LED displays
DESIGN & TECHNOLOGIES
- Large matrix of state-of-the-art theatrical lighting including motorized RGBWAUV LEDs, washes, spots, ETC Source Fours, ellipsoidals, and more
- Altman Smart-Track® lighting systems with multiple touchscreen consoles and over 16 DMX universes
- Commercial DMX foggers, hazers, lasers, and special effects
- Multi-zone, motorized flyspaces above stage
- Motorized LED/fiber-optic and traditional curtains
- Cinema-quality rear projector and scrim
- Above audience, full-width rear-of-house tech mezzanine with 64+ channel digital/analog audio mixing and control surfaces, multiple follow spots, multi-camera live video streaming/editing and more
- Full array and 7.2 surround sound system driven by ProTools HD
- 24+ channel lavalier headset system
- High-quality band, orchestra, and vocal microphone library
- Architecturally designed and suspended (shell/raked) audio acoustic treatments extending from stage to rear-of-house
- Removable proscenium staging for use with large-scale theatrical productions
- “Smart” dressing rooms and greenroom spaces with audio communications and video with infrared sensitivity for activity viewing during blackouts
- Commercial-grade kitchen appliances, ice machine, dishwasher, etc.
- Wheelchair lift for stage accessibility
REBUILD UPDATES BLOG: