After two years in the making, Rancho Cotate High School has opened its $52 million theater, arts and gymnasium building.
The 75,000-square-foot structure features a 250-seat theater, an enormous gym, a weight room, a dance studio, a recording studio, three computer labs, a coding classroom, a band classroom, a green room, locker rooms, a spacious lobby, concession stand and offices.
“It’s the largest facility of its kind in Northern California,” interim Superintendent Tony Roehrick said. “Whether you’re interested in the tech field or theater arts or athletics, this is going to provide you with first-class facilities.”
Rancho Cotate has about 1,500 students, more than 600 fewer students than enrollment 20 years ago. Amid countywide declining enrollment — the result of families having fewer children and the county’s increasing cost of living — district officials hope the grand building will attract more students to attend Cotati-Rohnert Park schools.
Principal Louis Ganzler has been the district’s voice for radio ads in recent months. He’s given more than 50 tours this semester to interested parents and community members, including a group of Realtors this month who found the building a good selling point for the area.
“Every person I’ve brought in here has essentially expressed some level of awe,” Ganzler said.
With a new school building and more courses in multiple fields, Ganzler said the curriculum will change.
“Part of what this building allows us to do is build programs,” he said.
Next year’s freshmen will get to choose from one of five new academic focuses or concentrations: law and justice; film; computer science; sports careers; and biomedical sciences. Up to 90 students may be in one focus at a time, Ganzler said.
Students will take English, history and classes within their chosen concentration, similar to the focus areas at Windsor High School, where Ganzler previously taught.
Classes began in the theater and arts building a few weeks ago. There are 80 students in the school’s band program, and they’ve got a dedicated room equipped with microphones from the ceiling and audio-visual equipment to record music for CDs or auditions.
“I’m loving it,” band director Tim Decker said.
The band room is down the hall from a room of makeup stations, which looks like the backstage of a professional theater with 15 seats in front of individual mirrors. Nearby, there’s a makerspace room for students to work on set designs.
Called the TAG building, it was designed so that each part follows the same theme, keeping performing arts rooms close together, and technology and computer labs on the same floor.
“It was done in the hopes that they’d collaborate, and that’s what they’ve done,” Ganzler said.
Jason Dawes was teaching a filmmaking class Tuesday afternoon in one of the three computer labs. The lab has Mac computers with Adobe Creative Suite software for each of his students, which wasn’t the case at his old classroom on campus.
Dawes said the green room, editing room and labs were comparable to what professionals use.
“I think of it as more of a really amazing college facility,” said Dawes, who’s in his fourth year teaching at Rancho Cotate.
In Dawe’s filmmaking class, Kelley Evert, 16, was working on making a video for a marketing project. The junior said she enjoys coming to the new building for class, and as a member of the varsity volleyball team.
The gymnasium covers 40,000 square feet, and has bleacher seating for 2,500 people.
“It’s nicer than any other gyms we play in at other schools in our league,” Evert said of the volleyball team.
The building was paid for by two facility bonds, including $42 million from an $80 million bond that voters approved in 2014 and $10 million from a bond offering approved in 2016.
Under former Superintendent Robert Haley, the district hired WLC Architects, a Rancho Cucamonga architecture firm to design the building, and Wright Contracting of Santa Rosa to handle the construction.
There will be a community open house at the building Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be student performances, guided tours and a dedication ceremony for the Henry J. Sarlatte gymnasium.
“It’s just incredible,” Roehrick said. “The students are thrilled.”