Committee Seeks New Design Team for The Diego Rivera Theater

By Shayna Gee

The Performing Art & Education Center (PAEC), which will be the new Diego Rivera Theater at City College encountered yet another delay of the project.

For more than 30 years, City College has delayed the project including its pause during the accreditation crisis in 2012. In May 2020, San Francisco passed Proposition A to fund the theater through an $845 million state bond measure, an increase from its initial proposal of $800 million. 


As of October 2019, more than $12 million had been spent on the project design. However, the project came to halt. In November 2020, the college terminated the project contract with McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., a Missouri corporation that had been working on the project. 

Handicap entrance of the Diego Rivera Theater on Ocean Campus shown stripped of its original façade in preparation for the reconstruction that is set to officially begin in 2023. (Photo by Tobin Jones/The Guardsman)

In two February Board of Trustees meetings, board members stated their disappointment in the delay of the project and the need to rebid the design build to prospective contractors. 


The reasons behind the termination of the project contract remain unclear.  Interim Chancellor Rajen Vurdien stated that there are litigation issues that cannot be publicly discussed regarding the reason for the termination. 

Madeline Mueller, who has been a design-build user on this project for 17 years, gave public comment at the February Board Facilities Master Plan and Oversight Committee meeting.  “As a member of the committee … I thought we were working just fine with this group,” she said.  “I don’t know what’s convenient about separating at this point.”

There will be a public statement on the separation agreement when the board confirms legal matters.  


In addition, the board authorized the use of the “design-build” method of construction, meaning that a single contractor will oversee both design and construction. 


Vurdien laid out the schedule, stating that the board should be able to identify a new design-build team before the end of June and that the process should proceed quickly because a new team would already have more than half of the design completed. 


As of February 2021, the approved maximum square footage of the theater is 77,025 square feet, with plans to include Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity mural in the main entry lobby, an auditorium with a minimum of 600 seats, stage and technical areas such as dressing rooms and a green room, a 150-seat studio theater, a 100-seat combined choral/recital room, broadcast room, and more. 

Diego Rivera, Pan American Unity Mural, DRT, PAEC, Theater Arts, Music, Students, Mural, SFMOMA, Board of Trustees, Chancellor Vurdien, Trustee Davila, Design Build, Design, Architecture, Contract, DSA, Shayna Gee

The theater would provide a modern space for the theater arts and music students to perform and practice. Parts of the theater could be open to the community for events, which the college hopes would generate income.

Additionally, the mural would be publicly displayed in the new theater lobby which allows for full exposure and viewing experience compared to its former building location. The mural remains a vital historic treasure to City College and San Francisco.


In partnership with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the historic mural is scheduled for temporary relocation to the museum’s temporary Diego Rivera exhibition from 2022 to 2023. After its museum exhibition, the mural is to be returned to City College.


“There are a couple options here,” Vurdien said in the February Board of Trustees meeting. The project can be built in stages beginning with the mural area first. “Almost all builders have indicated that was not a problem.” 


Vurdien explained that if the lobby isn’t constructed by the time the mural is to be returned, SFMOMA can decide to keep the mural for an extended time. 

Diego Rivera, Pan American Unity Mural, DRT, PAEC, Theater Arts, Music, Students, Mural, SFMOMA, Board of Trustees, Chancellor Vurdien, Trustee Davila, Design Build, Design, Architecture, Contract, DSA, Shayna Gee

“And in the worst case situation?” Trustee Davila asked in the meeting. For a lofty fee, the mural can go into storage, “at a rate of $55,000 to $70,000 a month,” Vurdien replied.

If on schedule, the design plans are expected to be ready to submit to the Division of State Architect (DSA) by summer 2022. Chancellor Vurdien expects a “hold up” with the DSA where, “currently they are taking 12 to 18 months to get projects approved.”


If the plan goes as is, construction on the Diego Rivera Theater should be able to begin in the fall of 2023 and would be open for “class, recitals, and theater productions in the spring semester of 2026,” Vurdien said. 

The Guardsman