S.F. School Board discusses possible Ruth Asawa School of the Arts Relocation

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The San Francisco board of education on Jan. 7 discussed the possible relocation of the city’s arts high school, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, to a spot near City Hall, a district spokeswoman said.

San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza has proposed creating a district-wide arts education center to be housed at a San Francisco Unified School District building at 135 Van Ness Ave., spokeswoman Gently Blythe said.

The arts center would offer programming for students in grades K-12, serve as the hub of the district’s Visual and Performing Arts program, and become the permanent home of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, or SOTA, named for the late San Francisco painter and sculptor.

The board discussed a resolution that underscores the district’s commitment to the project and calls for collaboration with public- and private-sector partners to make it happen.

SFJazz Center architect Mark Cavagnero was scheduled to present design sketches for the district arts center, Blythe said.

The district has been working to move SOTA, currently located at Portola Drive and O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, to the Civic Center area near Davies Symphony Hall, the War Memorial Opera House, the San Francisco Ballet, the SFJazz Center and other art
spaces for the past 15 years, Blythe said.

A Dec. 20 letter from school principal Brian Kohn to the SOTA community states that the project is “an extraordinary, ambitious dream, one that has been discussed for years, one that has met with many obstacles. Many obstacles remain.”

The resolution proposes connecting the arts high school “more deeply” with the district’s Visual and Performing Arts department and the Nourse Theater on Hayes Street.

Before her death last summer, Asawa had pushed for the school to train students in the heart of the city’s arts district.

The proposed site at 135 Van Ness Ave., which now houses administrative offices, would have to be renovated before the move could occur, Blythe said.

“There would need to be some significant work” before the space could be used as a school, she said.

The estimated cost to renovate site, which is protected under a historic preservation title, is $240 million, she said.

The district has only set aside $25 million for the project, and is looking into drawing more funding from a possible private-public partnership or a state or local bond measure, Blythe said.

Blythe said the current SOTA campus at 555 Portola Drive would still serve as a school if SOTA moved out.

It is expected to be renovated as well to make it suitable as a “modern facility” for more students to attend in the next decade.

The resolution is expected to go to a vote at a board meeting by the end of the month, Blythe said.

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