Theater renovation on the edge of its seats

Visalia Unified, Rotary Clubs say supply chain interruptions are holding up 311 chairs to complete major overhaul of theater looks, lights and sound

VISALIA – The Rotary Clubs of Visalia are ready to stand up and celebrate its 100th anniversary by renovating the theater which bears its name. But they can’t stand and take a bow until they have a place to take a seat.

Matt Terry, civic facility supervisor for Visalia Unified School District, said the major renovation of the Rotary Theater on Redwood High School’s campus is nearly complete with the exception of about 311 seats which have yet to arrive. Terry said the district ordered the new seats in May but said getting products with steel parts has been unreliable at best. He hopes the chairs will arrive sometime before Thanksgiving.

“It’s probably stuck on a cargo ship somewhere,” Terry said.

The chairs are the final piece to the renovation project originally scheduled for completion by Oct. 1, 2021. The Rotary Clubs of Visalia donated $350,000 for its Centennial Project in honor of the 100th anniversary of Rotary Clubs in Visalia. With VUSD staff doing most of the work, the Rotary clubs were able to leverage their money to do a variety of projects including: replacing house seating, broken fixtures in the reception hall and lobby, worn out carpet and harsh fluorescent lighting, new bathroom fixtures, refurbishing acoustic panels for sound, painting the interior, installing a lobby concession counter and a “landing” for a stage door/prop loading access.

“Here’s what we need to do to make this place look good, something we can be proud of again and make it more functional,” said Jerold Schnieder, president of committee in charge of centennial project for Rotary Club.

Terry said it is hard to put a price tag on the entire project because much of the work was done in house by VUSD facilities crews. In-house electricians replaced the external sign with an electronic sign and sidewalk leading to the entrance, and added “runway lighting”, dimmable, LED lights and external lighting to the entrance.

“I can’t imagine what this would have cost if we had hired it out,” Terry said.

The theater was actually built as a large classroom for the Sierra Vista campus (east of Giddings Street) of Redwood High School in the 1940s. In the 1980s, the Rotary Club helped renovate the building into a theater for VUSD student performances. The major renovation improved the structural integrity of the building and brought the building up to code for its dedication ceremony in 1987. The current project is geared toward bringing the lighting and sound up to industry standard.

“This second renovation is to make it more ADA compliant and to improve the aesthetics, which have really been neglected in the last several years,” Terry said.

While not as large as LJ Williams Theater and not as widely used as the El Diamante Theater, Rotary Theater plays an important role as a venue for both the school district and the community at large. The theater hosts anywhere from 20-25 Visalia Unified events and five to seven outside events each year and is in use 101-143 days each year. Uses include high school and middle school drama and choir, performing arts events for local home schooling sites and community colleges, private dance companies, special events, graduations and award ceremonies.

“This project brought a smile to my face,” VUSD Board President Juan Guerrero said. “I like to annually go out there. This is fitting and I thank you.”

Schneider said Rotarians are selling naming rights on the seats to raise additional money for the project. Those interested in putting their name on a seat can make donations payable to the Visalia Rotary Community Foundation, 11878 Avenue 328, Visalia, CA 93291. Rotary will be holding a Centennial Celebration Fundraiser at the theater on Jan. 22, 2022. For more information on donating toward the project, call 559-334-6806 or visit

“We are proud to serve,” Schneider said. “This is a great community and we want to keep it that way.”

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