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Auditorium gets makeover

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School > Duane Smith Auditorium gets a paint job and new seats

By Tris DeRoma

Those attending the 44th Annual Oppenheimer Lecture on Monday will also be the first to take in the sights of sounds of a different experience — the newly-renovated, Los Alamos High School’s Duane E. Smith Auditorium.
Theater Manager Ross Mason and his crew of contractors and student techs have been working on renovating the theater’s interior since June.
The aged structure was due for a massive overhaul, the seats themselves were last replaced in 1980.
Those familiar with the theater’s operation said little piles of the aged foam from the chairs would have to occasionally be swept out from underneath the chairs — that’s how old and broken down the chairs were. “They should last another 40 years, if the kids take care of them,” Mason said.
The cost of the chairs was defrayed somewhat through a special donor campaign, where donors could pay $250 for a plaque to be placed on a chair in the 52-seat center section. While all the new chairs are roomy and comfortable, the donor chairs are slightly wider and bigger in the seat. The armrests also fold up. According to Mason, the bid for the chair project was about $159,000.
Mason said now with the new chairs, people will be able to worry about the show and not their comfort.
“You can watch the show without having to worry or being uncomfortable,” he said.
Other changes include 956 new seats, new carpeting, interior, stone facing to replace the wood paneling as well as a new, floating PA system with an all-digital theatrical effects console and something the theater hasn’t had before — a high-tech television studio. The interior walls have been repainted a “moon” gray and the theater will also feature a laser-guided smoke detection system.
Robert Vigil did the painting, and Finishing Touch has created the curtains for the new theater as well.
Mason said the television studio is certain to shake things up, at least technology wise.
“We got the whole works,” he said. “As far as equipment goes, it will probably blow PAC (Public Access Channel) 8 out of the water. We were very fortunate to get some decent equipment this year.”
Mason said a morning news program is set to be produced from the studio, adding that special kiosks have already been set up throughout the school where students can watch content produced by the studio.
While the student theater techs seemed to be very excited about the new equipment, Mason said much the state-of-the-art equipment is for the students.
“It’s just as much about giving the tools and equipment they will need to succeed professionally as well as giving the community-at-large a nice, comfortable place to see a show,”
Mason said, adding that everything should be wrapped up by September.
Los Alamos Public Schools Chief Operations Officer, Joanie Ahlers, said more work is planned for the theater, including structural improvements, as well as a renovation to the lobby and the restrooms.
“My hope is to petition the state legislature for some capital outlay funds and see if we can’t get the county to come in and jointly address this problem, because the Duane E. Smith Auditorium is truly a community asset,” she said.