$35 Million State Grant to Renovate Historic Educational Cultural Complex Theatre

Recently, California Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins announced a $35 million renovation grant to restore the historic theatre inside the San Diego College of Continuing Education’s Educational Cultural Complex (ECC) as part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2021-22 State Budget. The funding will preserve and rehabilitate ECC, one of southeastern San Diego’s only centers for education and arts with ties to Coretta Scott King and the creation of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday.

Civil Rights Leader, Coretta Scott King gives address at the Educational Cultural Complex in Southeastern San Diego.

“The Governor has signed one of the most transformative and boldest budgets in California’s history,” Senator Atkins said in a statement. “What I’m especially happy to share are the major investments I was able to advocate for during budget negotiations that will benefit the San Diego region, with millions of dollars directly flowing into our communities, parks, libraries, small businesses, non-profit organizations,
and neighborhoods.”

The College of Continuing Education is the fourth division of the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD), providing free higher education and workforce training to adults in San Diego since 1914. The $35 million grant for ECC’s Common Ground Theatre, one of the three oldest African American Theatre companies in the nation, is included in funding allocated for libraries and education by the California Department of Finance and the office of Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins. “Renovations will include updated entries and foyer areas plus a new control room,” said Jacqueline Sabanos, Vice President of Administrative Services at SDCCE who will oversee and lead the committee that will hire a design team to develop renderings and plans. “We will also have a better seating arrangement, new sound and lighting controls, updated video projection equipment, and modern acoustic panels.”

Additional construction will include a refurbished exterior patio area and community room that will serve members of the community for group gatherings, social support, meetings, and other purposes. A planning committee will be formed and meet this fall. The project is estimated to be completed in 2024. ECC has been a symbol of community and African American activism since its beginnings in 1972. Mrs. King’s address at ECC in 1983, ultimately influenced the decision to sign the law creating the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday. In addition to establishing the federal observance, many other significant events
have ties to ECC, including performances by human right champions, Stevie Wonder, Maya Angelou, Shirley Caesar, James Meredith, and Jesse Jackson.

“The state’s gift — the most generous grant the College of Continuing Education has ever received — comes as the current climate in America is divided in the face of a global pandemic, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. At the same time, radically different people are standing together in unity for Black Lives Matter, and as a result their actions are turning into progressive policy reform,” said SDCCD Chancellor Carlos O. Turner Cortez.  “We are deeply indebted to the advocacy and support championed by Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins and from elected officials and esteemed community members, Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez, Christopher Ward, Akilah Weber, and Senator Ben Hueso, which led to this incredible years-long effort grant that will forever transform southeastern San Diego with a state-of-the-art community theatre.”

Prior to his appointment as the district Chancellor, Dr. Cortez served six years as President of the College of Continuing Education where he and Laurie Coskey, Ed.D., Executive Director of the school’s foundation established its Historic Preservation Committee. Together they are working with the city of San Diego and state officials to have ECC named as a Civil Rights Landmark Designation. “It has been extremely pleasing to me that I was able to work closely with the late southeastern Community Theatre/Common Ground Theatre founders Mr. Rufus B. DeWitt and Dr. Robert Matthews and legacy artistic director Dr. Floyd Gaffney,” said Dorothy L. W. Smith, Historic Preservation Committee member. “I wish that Dr. Gaffney, Mr. DeWitt and Dr. Matthews could be here to bear witness to this dream, to refurbish the ECC Theatre, our first ’home,’ with which we have been associated
since its opening in 1976.” The College of Continuing Education’s former Provost, Dr. Matthews, and philanthropist, Michel Anderson welcomed Mrs. King and the California Commission to ECC in 1983. “Common Ground Theatre congratulates Dr. Carlos Turner Cortez and thanks San Diego legislators for securing the funds to refurbish the ECC Theater,” said Smith. “We look forward to many more years of collaboration with the San Diego Community College of Continuing Education in providing plays in a state-of-the-art theatre for the enjoyment of eager theater goers in the entire San Diego region.”

Archive photo of the Educational Cultural Complex Theatre.

“We can now start dreaming up a sustainable strategy that rightfully reserves this historic symbolism of southeastern San Diego and American Civil Rights and build for future generations,” said Dr. Coskey. Today, ECC is the center of a comprehensive continuing education program serving approximately 31,000 students, many of whom transition to the district’s San Diego City, Mesa, or Miramar colleges for associate and bachelor’s degrees.