Riverside’s Chavez Center to get $25 million overhaul

Source: Press Enterprise (PE)

“I am proud that our cultural and educational priorities are receiving much-needed investments after years of advocacy by our community,” said Medina

The Riverside Arts Academy on the city’s Eastside will enjoy a renovated arts center for its young talent.

California’s 2022-23 budget includes $25 million to renovate the César Chávez Community Center inside Bobby Bonds Park, Inland Empire legislators and community leaders announced Friday, July 1.

The Spanish colonial-era building, constructed more than 100 years ago and managed by the city of Riverside, is packed with students and in dire need of upgrades, they said. The University Avenue structure was once University Heights Junior High School.

After its days as a school, the aging building was a community center. Now, it’s used primarily by the academy, which has offered low-cost arts programs and music education to youths for nearly a decade, a news release states.

Riverside Arts Academy President Collette Lee said the goal is to honor a “beautiful old building,” and make it “into a high-tech arts academy.”

“The place is like a dungeon… when we first started at the Cesar Chavez Center in 2014, we didn’t even have doors on the boys’ restrooms,” she said. “At our spring concert, we had a full capacity crowd, and the building’s plumbing could not accommodate. We had an overflow in the bathroom.”

In summer, the air conditioning does work, forcing academy students to leave classrooms for cooler parts of the building, Lee said.

The academy has always “thrived” with talent, but needed funding for structural upgrades, she said. The program is made up at least 89% of low-income youths, who qualify for free music instruction and instruments.

On Friday, she joined Inland Assembly Members Jose Medina, D-Riverside; Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside; Riverside City Council members and academy officials at the Chávez Center to announce the state budget dollars for the project.

Medina, who represents the 61st District, said in a statement that the approached the academy and city officials in 2019, emphasizing the “much-needed renovations” in the former school building “that has not seen any updates since 1938.”

“I am proud that our cultural and educational priorities are receiving much-needed investments after years of advocacy by our community,” said Medina, who serves as chair of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education.

Medina met with representatives from the city and the academy to form a committee, raise money, and create a budget proposal for the legislature.

Lee that she was “so thrilled and honored” that the assembly members won funding for the project. The money will pay for planning and upgrades, such as installing a Wi-Fi hub and buying a ceramics kiln for the academy’s growing visual arts program.

While there’s not yet a set timeline for construction and remodeling, Lee said she hopes the renovated arts academy will open “between two to three years.”

The center, which is offering summer music classes beginning this month, will stay open during most of the renovations.

“Our passion is social justice and equal access to the arts,” Lee said. “I hope we can have an arts academy in Riverside that is not only award-winning, from a theater arts standpoint, but (that would) maintain a level of excellence in the arts. This is going to transform the Eastside without question. And it already has.”