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Helix Charter School gives students, the arts a boost

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Students at Helix Charter High School in La Mesa will soon be able to enjoy a new state-of-the-art performing arts complex.

At a time when arts education is taking a budgetary hit in California, students at Helix Charter High School in La Mesa will soon be beneficiaries of a state-of-the-art performing arts facility.

An 18-month project, funded by voters’ passage of Proposition U bond initiatives in 2008, will culminate in the spring of 2013 with the completion of a 34,000-square-foot, full-service complex on the Helix campus. In addition to a principal theater that will seat 400 and a block-box space for musical performances, the complex will include a dance studio, a music library, dressing rooms, storage space and teachers' offices. It will be the first performing arts complex within the Grossmont Union High School District.

Construction management firm Hughes Marino CM is shepherding the project in collaboration with the school district and with Turner Construction Company and Summit Builders. Construction of the performing arts complex should be finished by May 2013, with Helix Charter High School students scheduled to begin occupying and utilizing the facilities in the ensuing fall.

“This isn’t just a building. It’s a special place that has special meaning for the students,” said Hughes Marino CM Division President Kirt Gilliland. “This (the arts) is their passion. It’s what they want to do. This is where they’re going to learn and hone their skills.

“Our role is to act as Helix Charter School’s representative through this whole process, to make sure their voice is heard.”

While the performing arts complex will accommodate the school’s music, drama and dance departments, it also will be available for use by the surrounding community. “You put in nice facilities and people will line up to use them,” said Damon Chase, grade-level principal and athletic director at Helix.

Besides providing Helix Charter School’s performing arts students with a much-needed home, the construction of the facility is intended to reorient visitors to the campus, creating a grand entrance.

“It really is part of a bigger plan,” Chase said, “and that’s to move the front door of the campus. The different entrance puts the focal point on that back part of the campus where there is adequate parking and more access to services.”

Chase said the vision for an arts complex at Helix, which boasts around 2,400 students, dates back at least 10 years. “When the bonds passed, we got in line early with our priorities of what we wanted to do in terms of our campus, and (the arts complex) certainly was on the first page.”

Existing buildings used by performing arts students and teachers at Helix are too small and, in general, outdated, Chase said. The current theater holds around 175 people, and its replacement, which will have both a first-floor and mezzanine level, will seat more than twice that. “We’ve had outstanding music programs, choir programs and theater programs really just surviving in inadequate spaces,” he said, some of them 60 years old. “This certainly puts them all under the same roof, but at the same time gives us a theater that can be a showcase not only for the school but for the community as well.”

“They’re bringing a community together,” said Hughes Marino project engineer Niklas Bandak. “It’s going to be completely collaborative.”

Gilliland, who along with Bandak will provide design and construction management services to Helix Charter High School, added, “This is going to be a feather in the cap for the whole district.”

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