'It’s going to look beautiful'

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By Gabriel Vasquez

By July 16, everything but the name will have changed.

Duane W. Smith auditorium is getting a facelift, and that’s an understatement.

“It’s going to look beautiful,” said Ross Mason, LAHS Theatre Manager. “We’re working on an unbelievable amount of stuff right now.”

The Los Alamos High School auditorium is undergoing extensive renovations, funded primarily by leftover bond referendum dollars.

The facility, built in 1948, retains most of the original equipment from the Manhattan Project era.

Although still functional, the place hasn’t been much to look at for several years, Mason said.

“The place was trashed,” he said. “It was nasty.”

Staring at certain spots for too long seemed to make the paint peel off the walls. The carpet was ancient, and dangerously suspicious – likely hiding years of asbestos build-up; the dressing rooms, reminiscent more of a bomb shelter than a theatre; and the air handlers, ’50’s-era tanks covered in graffiti and a half-century of rust.

“One of the major projects is getting the handlers replaced,” Mason said. “It’s going to be a huge project, a six-figure job.”

Heavy machinery will have to jut through the roof, creating two massive holes, and a crane will lift the old handlers out, Mason said. New handlers will provide the facility with a modern heating and cooling system, increasing energy efficiency and lowering maintenance costs.

Maintenance crews have also just finished a complete asbestos removal project.

Other modifications include a new paint-job inside and out, complete re-flooring and re-carpeting, new stage equipment, an electronically revamped box office – plasma screens included – a new marquee, auxiliary lighting capable of thousands of colors, a prop and costume shop with brand new equipment, and structural changes to current dressing rooms that would open up the entire area and connect them to restroom and shower facilities.

Also, the noisy lighting and projection controls, currently stationed on the floor of the main hall, will be moved to the second floor as to not block theatre-goers’ views. They will be housed adjacent to a brand new production room, capable of producing high quality digital media.

“I’m barely sleeping as it is right now,” Mason said. “But I’ve had a lot of good help. There are definitely some good people working at these schools.”

Mason is undertaking much of the work himself.

Along with the contractors, he has sole responsibility of the renovation project. Mason chose the layouts and color scheme for many of the new rooms.

“I’m 90-percent sure the public will love this,” he said. “There was no committee designated for this project, so I’ve been making a lot the decisions myself.”

Mason, who previously served as a theater manager in Farmington, will celebrate his one-year anniversary since arriving in Los Alamos in July 2007, in-line with the inauguration of the renovated auditorium.

The project is scheduled to be completed July 16 – just in time for a performance by the MASS Ensemble July 19, an event sponsored by the Los Alamos Arts Council.

The ensemble describes itself as a visual and musical experience, rooted in tradition but simultaneously pushing the “experimental edge.” The act features a blend of sculpture, music, dance, and visual arts. The act is known for using larger-than-life instruments and kinetic performances.

It will be a perfect event to showcase the theater’s new additions, Mason said.

Tickets are already on sale: $15 for general admission, and $10 for seniors and youth aged 4 to 13.

“We’re doing this for the community,” Mason said. “We want them to come out and see what we’ve been doing.”