Helene Galen donates $1.5 million for Rancho Mirage High School theater

by Brett Kelman - May 28, 2013 - brett.kelman@thedesertsun.com - Brett Kelman - May 28, 2013 - brett.kelman@thedesertsun.com - Brett Kelman - May 28, 2013 - brett.kelman@thedesertsun.com
Ken Wagner, principal new Rancho Mirage High

At far left, Ken Wagner, who will be the principal at new Rancho Mirage High School leads a tour through the Performing Arts Center. / Omar Ornelas/ The

RANCHO MIRAGE — The Palm Springs Unified School District will rename the new Rancho Mirage High School theater after accepting a $1.5 million gift from a local philanthropist.

Helene Galen, a longtime resident of Rancho Mirage, cut the school district a check for $250,000 on Tuesday. It is the first of six annual installments from the Galen Family Foundation. The 600-seat theater will be formally dedicated as the Helene Galen Center for the Performing Arts in November.

“Everybody will ask the question: ‘Why?’” Galen said Tuesday while presenting her check to the school district. “Here is why: I’ve been a member of this community for 35 years. … And I wanted to give a significant gift to a public school because I think today they are more needed than ever.”

This is the first Palm Springs Unified building to be renamed since the school board adopted a new policy allowing the district to sell naming rights. The policy was a result of budget constraints at the school district, which has received less and less money from the state in recent years.

The policy to sell naming rights was approved in March after several months of planning. It states that donors must give at least $250,000 to rename a building, but that a donation intended to rename a building should generally amount to 25 percent of the building cost. Smaller donations can purchase the name of individual classrooms or athletic fields.

District Superintendent Christine Anderson said Galen’s donation will hopefully be the first of many. Each donation will help the district rely less on state funding, she said.

Rancho Mirage High, a new $100 million campus, opens in the fall. It has several other facilities — including a large student kitchen, an impressive gym and a “beautiful” football stadium — that could potentially be named for other donors, Anderson said.

The district also hopes to renovate the theater at Palm Springs High, and a donation could help make that project a reality, she said.

“Some donors might be interested in actually helping to build the theater or renovate it and some might be interested in programs, like Helene was,” Anderson said. “The building is here, so now the endowment in her name comes to the kids.”

Galen’s donation will create an endowment for the performing arts program at Rancho Mirage High. Each year, the interest accrued on the $1.5 million donation will be used to bolster the program at the high school, without actual depleting the original deposit, Anderson said.

Anderson said donations will either be folded into the cost of a construction project or deposited in a program endowment, but never added to the district’s general fund.

This is not the first building named after Helene Galen and her late husband, Lou Galen. The primary building at the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert was named “The Galen” after she donated $1 million in 2011. In 2003, the couple donated $35 million to the University of Southern California that helped build The Galen Center, a sports arena the basketball and volleyball teams use.

Education reporter Brett Kelman can be reached on the phone at (760) 778-4642, through email at brett.kelman@thedesertsun.com and through Twitter @ TDSbrettkelman.

Source: The Desert Sun