The well-lighted Theater Arts Gymnasium Building at Rancho Cotate High School looked warm and inviting in the early morning darkness. Band students trickled into the old band room, secured their instruments and lined up waiting for the word to march into the new building. Band Director Tim Decker, clad in Rancho red, gave the signal and the students walked the hundred or so feet past the main entrance of the Theater lobby and through the hall that led to their new room.
Excitement filled the room as the band members found their seats laid out in a semicircle. As warm up sounds filled the room, first bass Lauren Poteet exclaimed, “I love the new band room! I am very excited to be here!” Mr. Decker raised his arms, and framed by two tubas, pushed his baton into motion leading the students to run the scale set of notes. And then the historical moment arrived as the band played the well-known fight song.
With the march music lingering after the band stopped playing, Mr. Decker pointed to some of the features in the new room. He explained how the microphones would allow the room to become a recording studio. He talked about the audio/video capacities of the room and how the big screen would allow the marching band to visually review their parades. On the east wall, the storage room held places for all types of instruments. Practice rooms invited individuals and small groups to work on songs and routines.
Then the band director announced that the first concert would take place Thu., Mar. 28 at 7 p.m. The class then ran through the Disney show including the “Mickey Mouse March” and the medley of familiar songs such as “Zippity Do Dah!” Thus the TAG Building became officially initiated as an academic facility.
Three decades ago, educators and community members handed out flyers to pass a school bond. According to the leaflet, bond money would build a new gym and a theater arts hall at Rancho Cotate High School. This plan never happened. But nearly thirty years later, Mon., Mar. 25, teachers and students, returning from spring break, entered the Theater Arts Gymnasium to continue their pursuit of education in the 56-million-dollar structure that combines the gym and theater concept along with more educational opportunities.
Many impressive facts accompany the cost of the entire facility. The gym’s seating capacity of 2,500 makes it suitable, not just for the Cougars’ rallies and sporting activities, but also as a site for regional events. The theater seats 250 and can be combined for larger presentations when a video projector and a huge screen on the western wall are used. The gym itself boasts of its 40,000 square feet.
First and foremost, this educational facility contains several classrooms that expand the academic possibilities at Rancho Cotate. The very large band room will also house the orchestra and the choir. Drama classes, working in a real theater, will benefit by actually practicing on the stage. Near the stage, a shop will produce screens, props and scenic backdrops. Students will not just study stagecraft but will actually participate in making sets. Actors and others will learn and practice make up art as the dressing rooms have a common area with make up stations.
Other classrooms include a dance studio with an appropriate hardwood dance floor, glass walls and mirrors. Rancho’s wonderful dance program that offers modern dance and aerobics will expand. Also, a weight room contains top-of-the-line equipment and the potential to grow another great program. Next door to the weight room, a multi-use classroom allows subjects such as sports management and business to be held on the first floor.
Stairwells at the northeast and southeast corners of the building permit students and teachers access to the second floor along with elevators. Girls’ and boys’ locker rooms run along the east wing on the first floor. Also, many coaches’ rooms, recovery rooms, and boys’ and girls’ team rooms, situated adjacent to the locker rooms and offices allow easy access to the gym and all of the fields.
The spectacular gym and theater run from east to west. Separated by a moveable wall, the screen and stage can be viewed by spectators in the bleachers. The gym, covered by a beautiful hardwood floor, shows Rancho’s colors proudly through the bleachers. “Cougar Country” lettered nicely above the south bleachers identifies the home side. The name of the gym, “Henry J. Sarlatte,” will soon appear above the north bleachers. In the theater, comfortable seating ascends several rows to the west.
North of the theater, but south of the band room, the Green Room houses state-of-the-art makeup facilities. Adjoining the makeup room, girls’ and boys’ dressing rooms give a strong feeling that this is a professional theater.
The second floor hallway allows viewing of the gym as it passes several multi-media classrooms. Photography, filmmaking and media-related computer classes permit students to get some professional experience using up-to-date technology. Final projects will be fine tuned in the production room.
System administrator Ricky Dunn and his crew spent the past week and a half tweaking the technology. As students filed in, he went from classroom to classroom to make last minute adjustments.
Student School Board Representative Emilia Torres gasped in awe, “It’s beautiful! Stunning architecture!” Most students entering first period looked on in quiet wonder as they searched for their new classrooms. Students quietly worked with computers in their new surroundings.
Assistant Principal Henri Sarlatte explained the rationale for opening the building at the beginning of the fourth quarter rather than waiting for the new school year to begin: This would be an opportunity for everyone to begin working in the new environment for ten weeks. Teachers and students will have time to discover needs and problems and the school district will have the summer to make improvements.
Community members of Cotati and Rohnert Park, by passing two bonds, made this wonderful project succeed. At the end of April, there will be a public celebration of this opening, including a ceremony to honor Henry J. Sarlatte, Rancho Cotate’s former teacher and great athletic director. The Rancho Cotate High School Principal Louis Ganzler announced during the soft opening that the Grand Opening Celebration happens at the high school Apr. 27 between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The community should come out to celebrate what all of the stakeholders have accomplished.