Refurbished Auditorium Makes HMS Shine

Audience members inside Huntington Middle School’s Kenneth White Auditorium may notice something different while watching musical performances or attending assemblies this fall. Chairs that used to squeak at the slightest shift in weight are now silent. Walls that carry sound throughout the venue are quieter as well — at least in terms of their color scheme. The vision of Principal Jason Kurtenbach and the San Marino Unified School District PTA was finally realized when HMS unveiled its auditorium refurbishments during a ribbon-cutting ceremony inside the spruced-up space last month.
“It is by far one of the best uses of money when you look at having our school look the way that we need it to look and we should have it look, given what we do for our kids here,” said Kurtenbach as he stood in the aisle several days later.
Surrounding him were rows of theater-style seats covered in vibrant red velvet, a welcome sight for an auditorium that had begun to show clear signs of wear in recent years. Before the revamped seating arrangement was installed this past summer, some of the old chairs were borderline unusable because of tears in the padding and damaged springs.
“They were in complete disarray,” said Kurtenbach, who asked Director of Maintenance Gil Cardenas to investigate what it might cost to upgrade the seats earlier this year.
When Cardenas came back with the quote, Kurtenbach knew it was time to propose his plan to the PTA, which had accumulated the necessary finances thanks to successful fundraising and several years of SMUSD helping cover the organization’s budgetary costs. He introduced the initiative during a PTA budget allocations meeting in late April.
“Everyone was thrilled to be able to do that,” said Karen Wicke, the former PTA president who presided over that allocations meeting before the end of her term in June. “It’s pretty universally understood that large meeting rooms like that are kind of like basketball gyms in this community. They’re just constantly being used. It was looking pretty shabby in there. … So there was really no discussion once that was suggested.”
Ground was broken several weeks after the school year ended, and it took just two days for workers to complete the project.
“It was really fantastic to watch,” said Kurtenbach. “They had one guy with the drill, one guy with the anchors” to rip the iron seats from their moorings for re-welding. The wooden armrests received sanding and the padded cushions were outfitted with a new fire-retardant material as well.
But during the brief time when the auditorium was devoid of seats, Kurtenbach, Cardenas and others noticed something in the empty room: the walls. The original baby blue hue with a dirty off-white tinge featuring bright yellow stars suddenly stood out, and not necessarily in a good way. It was decided that the old auditorium — dedicated to former district educator Kenneth White following his retirement in 1973, but erected much earlier — could use a new paint job. The walls now feature a soft white tone, a simpler aesthetic to complement the doors.
“It didn’t really match [before],” said Kurtenbach. “This has kind of brought it all together, which I think just makes for a nice overall venue.”
White’s portrait was moved from an obscure location above the front doors on the inside of the auditorium, to a more prominent spot at eye level in the main foyer. Visitors who walk past White and through the main doors will notice light gray acoustic panels bordering the brightened room, which Kurtenbach believes might have an impact on future music flowing from various HMS musicians.
“It really kind of raises the level of — I wouldn’t say that they perform better, but I think if your venue’s really nice, you could try to do a little bit better,” he said.
Wicke echoed his sentiment.
“It’s important to have facilities that are pleasant to use and that don’t detract from whatever kind of assembly you’re holding or play you’re staging,” she said. “ … It’s just in constant use and having the facilities [that are] in good repair and nice to look at just makes those events that much better. … There are going to be a lot of people — not just in the school community, but in the community at large — that will be able to enjoy those upgrades.”
The final additions awaiting installation are gold notches engraved into each chair that signify specific rows and seat numbers. This miniature enhancement will allow audience members to pre-purchase tickets, meaning they won’t have to worry about arriving extra early to secure prime seating.
“Those little things make a big difference when you’re in a performance theater,” said Kurtenbach, “and this has made all the difference for us.”
“We have to thank our parents. That’s a huge commitment of time and resources to raise that kind of money. … It’s a great partnership. It kind of excites you as a principal, you know, ‘Hey, if I have a big idea, we can really do it.’”

Leave a Reply