Student groups vie for PAC accessibility

    performing arts center

    The Performing Arts Center towers as one of Palo Alto High School’s newest additions. Photo: Adrienne Kwok.

    The newly-built Performing Arts Center is Palo Alto High School’s newest landmark. With a grand total of 25,100 square feet that boasts a motorized orchestra pit and 582 seats, the PAC is a display of grandeur on Paly’s campus. However, as of now, the PAC remains a closed-off resource that many Paly students find difficult to utilize.

    Since its grand opening in October 2016, the PAC has held theater, choir, band and orchestra performances. However, one group that has found difficulty in reserving the PAC is Paly’s very own Team 8 Robotics group. With approximately 83 students, Paly Robotics is one of the largest student organizations found on campus.

    Clubs at Paly have the option to rent out spaces such as the Media Arts Center to use for events. The robotics team recently intended to use the PAC for their kickoff day, to mark the beginning of their 6-week “build season” during which team members build a robot for competition, and also for their awards night, according to Head Coach Christopher Kuszmaul.

    “The PAC is an extremely valuable educational resource,” Kuszmaul said. “It is my duty to make use of educational resources that are at my disposal. The PAC very much has my attention because I feel an obligation to the taxpayers who pay for this resource and if I don’t use it, I am neglecting my duty.”

    Robotics students, including senior project manager Jonathan Zwiebel, expressed similar concern.

    “The issue isn’t that they charge money, the issue is that most students have never been in the PAC, ever,” Zwiebel said. “Most students aren’t ever allowed to go into the PAC. You shouldn’t spend money on a building then not use it because you don’t want it to get dirty. It should be like the MAC or the MRC [Math Resource Center] or the library where there are just people in there because it’s an open space.”

    According to Assistant Principal of Operations Jerry Berkson, the PAC’s schedule is packed with events, partly due to Gunn High School’s Spangenberg Theater which is currently undergoing renovation.

    “[The PAC] is booked a lot because right now we are sharing because Gunn’s theater is under renovation,” Berkson said. “We will eventually rent it out to outside parties. We’re not going to do that for at least the first year, and probably beyond that. … We’ve got two plays from us per year, two plays per year for Gunn, all the choir events [and] all the instrumentals. There’s so much going on that there is not a lot of space.”

    Robotics is not alone in its struggle to utilize Paly’s resources. During the winter season, Paly’s wrestling team requested to use the PAC.

    We wanted to use the PAC because we currently don’t have a gym to use for our dual meets,” said wrestling coach Ryan Kessler. “Our home competitions are all at Gunn High School. When I told my team it was a possibility we would be wrestling in there, they were pretty fired up. I mostly feel bad for our seniors Seth Goyal and Sara Aguilar who will miss out on the new gym that’s being built. It would have been nice to send them off with a home match at Paly.”

    There are four different categories used to determine the charges for renting a Palo Alto Unified School District facility. District and school-sponsored clubs and groups are allowed to rent all district facilities, with the exception of pools, at no charge. Departments of local governments, community organizations with 501c3 (nonprofit) status, and government agencies that are not charging fees are all required to pay a fee for rental. Businesses and religious organizations must pay a fee higher than that of the aforementioned groups. The charge for camps is per week rather than per hour. The rental charge per hour is also dependent on the room or field one wishes to rent, with a greater charge for larger spaces.

    A calendar delineating the PAC, Haymarket Theater and Gunn’s Spangenberg Theater schedules may be found here.

    The robotics team is looking forward to the PAC being available for more students to use.

    According to Kuszmaul, “the PAC seems to be like the guest towels that nobody can use because we might make them dirty.”

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    • Kathleen Woods

      I disagree with the notion that the PAC is like a guest towel that no
      one can use. The PAC is in use six and sometimes seven days a week from
      morning until night by very diverse school and community groups. What
      isn’t noted in the article is that the English
      elective class, Comedy in Performance, a group of forty-five primarily
      non-performing arts students per semester (therefore 90 students this
      year) is housed in the PAC three days a week; in addition, as part of
      the YES program, most of the freshman class PE students have been in
      the PAC for weeks at a time throughout the year. Regular Guidance parent
      nights and all-class assemblies are held in the facility, and the PAC
      will soon be hosting Wellness assemblies for Paly. Paly’s Film Festival
      is coming up in the PAC in early March. These events are all in addition
      to the Paly, Gunn and PAUSD Performing Arts events, which are
      numerous. Paly waited almost one-hundred years for an updated
      performing arts facility; the fact that it is already in such demand is
      indicative of the need for the venue on our campus. It was built for the
      students and that’s exactly how it’s being utilized.
      Kathleen Woods – Paly Theatre Program Director