Construction of a new performing arts theater, competition gym and fieldhouse at Mill Valley High are underway this school year with completion expected later this year.
Once the new theater and gym are complete (slated for August), renovations to the auxiliary gym and existing theater will begin. The additions under construction at Mill Valley are the result of an $85 million bond issue approved by voters in May 2018 with 72% support.
USD 232 is also building a larger fieldhouse for Mill Valley to accommodate large teams needing the space. All projects started in summer 2019. Superintendent Frank Harwood noted that all projects are on schedule and on budget.
The $20.2 million renovations at Mill Valley are part of USD 232 school district’s long-term plan to make improvements to school facilities. Alvie Cater, district spokesperson, said the original cost estimate was $23.7 million when the district began budgeting about two years ago.
“These are needs for Mill Valley to basically match the size of the school,” Cater said. “And our community really stepped up and is supportive, not only to Mill Valley but supporting the district in this effort.”
Mill Valley opened in 2000 as a 4-A high school for 750 students — with the intent of keeping high school class sizes smaller across the district, Cater said. However, over time the school board found it to be more cost effective to operate a larger high school to provide more opportunities for students while avoiding the additional expenses of replicating facilities and services.
Mill Valley expanded in 2004 and has grown over time to where it’s now a 6-A high school with more than 1,300 students.
Changes to the performing arts theater spaces
The new theater will seat 750, while the existing theater seats 350.
School officials noted that the new theater will allow more room for families of student-performers, and also allow other opportunities for students, including large-class instruction.
“Some classes, you can’t get the whole grade level in the current space,” Harwood said. “We have some classes that go through Mill Valley that have more than 350 students.”
The existing theater — nicknamed “the little theater” — will be repurposed as a 125-seat theater. A portion of the space will also accommodate two additional classrooms.
Eventually, De Soto High will also have a larger theater in the future, Cater said, noting that Mill Valley’s expansion came first in order to complete multiple construction projects on the same site at one time.
Jon Copeland, drama teacher at Mill Valley, said he and his students are excited for the new performing arts theater. The “very large casts” in student performances will sometimes include more than 100 students.
“It’s going to be a lot easier, and it will take away any limitations we’ve had in terms of figuring out a way to do that particular thing with a lack of space,” he said. “I think it’ll make the process a little bit less stressful, and that’s going to help the whole department. Maybe we can go a little bit bigger on some of the things that we’ve done and even get a little bit more pizazz with the extra space we’re going to have.”
Changes to the gymnasiums
Mill Valley is also getting a competition-size gym for a 6-A high school. Cater noted that health and fitness is a growing segment of curriculum desired by students and faculty.
“These spaces are going to be used all day every day,” he said.
As part of the changes, the current gym will become the auxiliary gym, and the small gym on site will become a new weight room and wrestling room.
And the current weight room and wrestling room will become new locker rooms.
“In wrestling, they have to have multiple practice sessions because the space is so small,” Cater said. “So it’ll be nice for them to get a larger space.”
Harwood and Cater also noted the expansions will also address the high demand for the gym space by clubs, organizations and individuals needing to rent a venue.