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West Albany High School’s Rhythmix choir and jazz band each performed at Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony marking the start of renovations at the school.

And in a couple of years, some of those same students could be performing in a brand new auditorium.

The project will also include a new auxiliary gym, career and technical education spaces, a student gathering area and a new kitchen, but freshman Ember Walter said she is most excited about the auditorium.

Walter, who is in band and is working as a crew member for West Albany’s production of “Anything Goes,” said students are looking forward to no longer having to do performances and plays in the cafeteria.

She added that it will be nice to have an actual pit for the band, enough seating so that they don’t have to turn people away from performances and a stage with enough space for bigger sets.

Walter attended the groundbreaking and said it was an exciting moment.

“It was really cool because this is going to be my new school,” she said. “Our school is in disarray, so it will be nice to have a new school where we can grow together.”

The work at West Albany is part of a $159 million bond approved by district voters in May 2017 and is the first phase of a replacement of the school the district hopes to complete with future bond funds.

Tobin Caffarella, a West Albany sophomore whose mother, Cate, is the school’s choir director, said he has grown up around the school and the cafeteria has long been a difficult spot to have performances.

Caffarella, who sang with Rhythmix at the event, said music and theater give a lot of students confidence, so the community showing its support for performing arts by voting to approve a bond that included funding for the auditorium was important to students.

“It means the community has faith we can do good things with (the auditorium),” he said.

Stuart Welsh, the school’s band director, spoke at the event, saying the performing arts center would also have suites for video and audio recording. He said the idea of building a real performing arts space at the school has been in planning for around a decade and noted that the space will be a resource not just for the school, but for the whole community.

“The name on the outside of the auditorium is not going to be the ‘West Albany Auditorium.’ It’s going to be the ‘Albany Auditorium.’ It’s for the whole community. It’s been envisioned that way from the start,” he said.

James Franks, a senior project manager with HMK Co., which is overseeing the project, said work will actually start on the project Monday. He said the project is expected to take 85 weeks, with an anticipated completion date in October 2020. He said the project is expected to cost about $50 million and will add 106,000 square feet to the school.

Franks said initial work will start at the tennis courts and stadium and over summer break workers will begin demolition and asbestos abatement in some areas of the school.

Gerding Builders, of Corvallis, is contracted to do the construction work.

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Anthony Rimel covers weekend events, education, courts and crime and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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