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Big plans for CHS theatre facelift

It was a community affair when dozens of people gathered outside the Claremont High School Theatre Wednesday, June 6 to celebrate the groundbreaking of one of the school’s most ambitious undertakings in recent years.

The Don F. Fruechte Theatre for the Performing Arts will include an update of the wiring system in the decades-old facility, plus the addition of a 1600-square-foot lobby and 3500 square feet of classroom space.

Along with theater students present and past, the event drew local government representatives like Claremont Mayor Larry Schroeder, members of the school board and Sue Keith of the Citrus Community College Board of Trustees. They used gold-painted shovels to turn over a bit of dirt representing the impending construction. Work will begin soon after the end of school and is expected to continue through February of 2013.

Don Fruechte served as CHS’s first theater director until his retirement 19 years ago, after which current theater director Krista Carson Elhai (who was one of his students) joined the program. He took to the podium to express his pleasure in the growing strength of the school’s thespian program.

“This is something unusual for me. I’m not used to thanking so many people for naming a building for me,” he said.

Mr. Fruechte was the heart of CHS theater from 1963—when he launched the program with a production of The Diary of Anne Frank—until his retirement in 1994. Kathee Hennigan, CHS Class of ’72, was one of many former students who were delighted to see him at the groundbreaking. She started at a time when theater classes and performances were still held in Room 600 and moved soon after into the current CHS theater, which is known for its combination of cozy charm and slight dilapidation.

One of the best things about the new theatre is its name, Ms. Hennigan said.

“It’s fabulous. Don nurtured a lot of us,” she shared. “We feel really connected, even through the years and times of absence.”

The theater renovation project is funded in part by a $1.5 million matching Career and Technical Education grant from the State Allocation Board intended to support the program’s vocational education efforts. The Claremont Unified School district has pitched in with a $1.5 million bridge loan, and CHS boosters have raised an additional $400,000.

A bit more money was forthcoming during the ceremony, when a CHS alumnus presented the theater department with a $1500 donation on behalf of the class of 1961.

Along with speeches and laughter, the festivities ceremony included a slice of carrot cake. Guests were also presented with a musical treat when CHS Theatre star Kristina Leopold sang a song from the musical In the Heights.

M. Leopold will be heading to Vanguard University in Costa Mesa this fall to study English and musical theater. The departure is bittersweet, she said.

“I’m a little sad that I didn’t get to perform in the new theater, but I’m really excited that all the hard work everyone put in is finally paying off.”

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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