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Marin Veterans' Memorial Auditorium closure extended

Marin Independent Journal - 1/2/2024

Jan. 2—The 2,000-seat Marin Veterans' Memorial Auditorium will remain closed for repairs until at least late 2025, county officials have announced.

The news comes as a blow to the Marin Symphony, Marin Ballet, the MPSF Speaker Series and other arts organizations that rely on the county's largest entertainment venue for their events.

"We were expecting to get back in the building next fall," said Tod Brody, the Marin Symphony's executive director. "We were planning to have a regular symphony season next year."

Jim Weil, president of the MPSF Speaker Series, said, "We've just gone through a recovery mode due to COVID. Now we're going to have to go through yet another recovery mode."

Deanna Masgay, owner and director of the Just Dance Academy, said the extended closure means the auditorium will be unavailable for four student performances instead of just two.

"That's a lot," Masgay said. "A big part of our studio is our performances."

Gabriella Calicchio, director of the county's Department of Cultural Services, notified art organizations of the bad news in a Nov. 20 letter.

Calicchio wrote that inspections by engineering firms determined that while the building's perimeter foundation is structurally sound, soil under the foundation has settled substantially and caused concrete cracking, voids beneath the floor and damage to drainage and sewer lines. She added that water intrusion over the years has damaged lift equipment, electrical equipment and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

"The damaged drainage lines do not allow water to properly drain away from the building," Calicchio wrote, "and the sewer lines are sagging with standing waste and show signs of imminent failure. The HVAC boiler, chiller, and air handling units are beyond useful life."

Calicchio said in her letter that it would take until "at least" October 2025 to complete the necessary repairs.

"It may ultimately make more sense to extend the closure period even longer to complete as much as possible for which there is sufficient funds," she added.

Calicchio wrote that she would like to accomplish some "front of house improvements" that have been flagged by event producers. They include "updated seats and seating configuration, improved and/or enlarged restrooms, and addressing the acoustics in the auditorium."

But Calicchio wrote that the feasibility of doing so won't be known until the county does more planning and design work.

"We expect to have more complete information regarding the scope and the duration of the work by May of 2024," she wrote.

Brody said it is frustrating to have to wait until May to find out what the plan will be. He said symphony seasons are typically planned two years in advance and depend on the availability of guest artists and conductors.

Weil said, "The original problem was that the county spent two years negotiating with the federal government for the funding."

Arts organizations were told initially that the auditorium would be closed starting in July 2022, and there were several false starts after that.

As a result, Weil said, the speaker series has been unable to use the auditorium for its last three seasons and now will be facing a fourth year without access to the center. Instead, the program has used the adjacent Marin Center Exhibit Hall.

"Other than the fact that it seats 600 less people than the auditorium, it seems to work okay," Weil said.

The seismic project was delayed because the original bids to do the work exceeded the available funds. In June 2022, public works engineers estimated the construction contract would cost $2.86 million. They later adjusted their estimate to $3.53 million.

However, the total project — including project management, design administration, construction management, inspections and permits — is estimated to cost $4.91 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to pay a maximum of 75% of that final cost, or $3.68 million.

Public Works Director Rosemarie Gaglione said in March that the county must have the project completed and invoiced by April 2024 to receive the maximum reimbursement.

In an email, Calicchio wrote, "The cost of the seismic work has not changed much: we are still within the contingency limits of the contract."

However, she added, "In terms of the other repairs, we have identified $8 million to $10 million in necessary repairs. Renovation work could run quite a bit more."

Calicchio said that the original plan was to complete the seismic work by April 2024 and then to address water intrusion issues so the auditorium would reopen by October 2024.

"None of us knew the extent of the infrastructure issues," Calicchio said. "Only when the building was closed for the seismic work were we able to conduct the testing."

Brody said, "We've known for a long time there were water issues there. If you walk under the stage, which we have occasion to do, it's been wet down there for years. It smells terrible.

"Last winter when there was so much rain," he added, "there was literally water flowing down there. When you see that inside the building, you know something is wrong."

Brody said the floor in the auditorium's green room is warped.

"The floor is at about a 5-degree angle, and there are cracks in the ceiling," he said. "We all assumed that that had something to do with the condition of the foundation or whatever was going on underneath the building, which clearly was the case, but even more so than than we knew."

Regarding where the money for the repairs will come from, Calicchio said, "The county will fund the cost of construction for the initial work. We are exploring additional funding options including a bond measure, capital campaign and grants."

The Marin Center Renaissance Partnership project, a public-private plan for renovating and expanding the complex in the early 2000s, fizzled after the county paid more than $500,000 to consultants for public opinion surveys, fundraising planning and design work.

"I don't believe they had in-depth knowledge of the infrastructure issues," Calicchio wrote. "Perhaps they did not exist a couple of decades ago."

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(c)2024 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

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