Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Libbey Bowl To Get $3M Makeover

By Sondra Murphy
After 50 years of continuous use, a beloved Ojai landmark is scheduled for a much-needed make-over.
Libbey Bowl amphitheater has been serving the community since it was built in the 1950s and is currently used by as many as 30 nonprofit groups for more than 50 events each year. Half a dozen representatives of these groups gathered last week to begin a dialogue about design needs as identified in a recent survey sent out to the performing arts community. Prioritized necessity and functionality will be incorporated into the plans for the site that has had many additions and repairs over the decades.
“People first started performing out on the lawn and built awnings for shade,” said Ojai Music Festival executive director Jeff Haydon. “The Music Festival ended up taking the lead in raising the funds for the bowl.” Designed by Austin Pierpont and Roy Wilson, it cost $12,000 to build the Ojai Festival Bowl stage and shell section in 1957.
To now replace the structure, renamed Libbey Bowl in the 1970s, will cost an estimated $3 million. It will take about a year to complete the planning, said architect David Bury, and the project is expected to be finished by June 2010 for the start of the Ojai Music Festival.
In March, the city hired Bury for the concept designs of the bowl. Bury has designed a number of other Ojai projects, such as the Pergola, that merge historical designs with modern considerations. New laws and structural requirements, such as building codes and handicap accessibility, will be incorporated into the redesign.
“We are going to rebuild Libbey Bowl, but we realize that it is a kind of icon,” said Bury. “It’s not going to be a restoration. We will retain the character, but we would like to be able to improve and optimize the bowl.”
Sustainability being a city policy, Bury is aware of green materials and will use appropriate technology throughout the design. “The fact is wood is a renewable resource, but it is an impermanent material. When exposed to the elements, it decays,” Bury said. Dry rot and termite damage are two reasons why such extreme measures are now needed to preserve Libbey Bowl.
As a primary user of the bowl, the Music Festival has been involved in many past renovations and will continue to be an active participant in its rebuild. The Ojai Planning Commission allocated $100,000 in February to address the needs of the aging stage; $30,000 of that is to be used this spring to extend the life of the bowl safely to 2010, by which time the city hopes to have rebuilt the stage and shell. The remaining $70,000 is earmarked for the planning process.
Seating upgrades are included in the $3 million budget to help improve audience views and comfort. Efforts will also be made to address the distinctive drainage needs of the bowl area. Additionally, Bury is considering a modest shift in the placement of the stage and shell to better direct acoustics up toward the green instead of the tennis courts.
Storage, cable conduit and equipment posts will be added to improve modern sound and lighting needs. “We’re going to be building this to accommodate technical equipment, but each group’s needs vary,” said Bury. He added, “There’s a lot of compromise that has to occur here because not everything is going to work for everybody, but we want it to work as best it can.”
Libbey Bowl performers range from musicians and actors to dancers, who all use the stage differently. “Each one of those require a different flooring need,” Haydon said. “From an acoustical standpoint, cement is best, but from an acting or dancing standpoint, it’s the worst.”
Bury plans to moderately increase the shell height and depth while lowering the stage floor a bit. Currently, the shell slopes low at the back of the stage, restricting its use. Ramps and doorways that accommodate a variety of set and human concerns will be incorporated into the plans.
“The Music Festival is ready to help raise the funding for this,” said Haydon. “I have talked to potential donors wanting to see what the city does with this.”
Getting input from the groups that traditionally use Libbey Bowl is just the first step in the project. From there, Bury will create a preliminary design to bring back to the bowl’s users to see how the ideas were addressed. A refined and more detailed plan will then be created to present to the city’s various oversight committees. “Our intention is to make the design process as inclusive and transparent as possible,” Bury said.
Both Haydon and Bury expressed confidence in the 2010 time line for the project. “We are hoping the design process will take about a year,” Bury said. The construction company Jones and Jones will be doing the dismantle and rebuild, which is expected to take from eight to 12 months after the bureaucratic process is complete.
“Culturally and historically, this is a really important project and some people want to be involved just because of that,” said Bury, “so I think we will get a lot of advice from the experts.” He hopes to bring the preliminary design back to the bowl users in June.

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