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ST. HELENA — Businessman Leslie Rudd has withdrawn his offer to donate $500,000 to the St. Helena High School auditorium, after the school board decided not to offer Rudd naming rights in exchange.

“At this late date, it has become obvious we do not have a meeting of the minds regarding the benefits and suitability of the donation,” Rudd wrote in a letter to the board dated Dec. 2.

According to Rudd, he made the pledge more than two years ago to vintner Jeff Jaeger, who has helped raise money for the performing arts, and Craig Bond, the district’s choral director, with the understanding that the district “was happy to accept my initial proposed donation for the naming rights.”

“Over the next two years, I never heard anything from anyone about the project and assumed we were moving ahead with the pledge. Neither the amount of the pledge nor its percentage of total construction cost was ever brought up to me by anyone.”

At the Nov. 12 school board meeting, trustees questioned whether it would be appropriate to name the auditorium after Rudd in exchange for a donation that equaled 3 percent of the project’s budget, which came mostly from voter-approved bonds.

The performing arts practice facility built in 2010 was named after Rudd after he donated half of the $2.5 million project cost. Rudd owns an Oakville winery and formerly owned the Dean & DeLuca gourmet food chain.

A majority of the board said they’d be willing to honor Rudd with a plaque inside the new Performing Arts Center, but wouldn’t support adding the words “Rudd Theater” to the exterior.

“I’m extremely grateful to Mr. Rudd for the support he has given to me and the fine arts of the St. Helena Unified School District these past many years,” said Bond, the district’s longtime choral director. “I understand his decision and now we need to move forward with the completion of the new Performing Arts Center.”

Superintendent Marylou Wilson also provided a statement. “We understand Mr. Rudd’s decision to withdraw his previous generous offer. The district appreciates his interest in the project and we are continuing to move the project forward to provide our students with the best possible environment to nurture their growth.”

In his letter, Rudd said his representatives had been told that the decorative ceiling the donation would have paid for would have benefited the auditorium’s acoustics.

When he learned otherwise, “I too question whether money should be spent on purely aesthetic features,” Rudd’s letter stated.

“I entered into this agreement in a spirit of generosity, never expecting this arrangement would be controversial. But, when it was pointed out that the ceiling was not of significant value to the project, and when it also became obvious that this proposal was controversial, and that the School Board does not support the agreements that were reached regarding the donation, it became clear that the assumptions underlying this donation were not accurate.”

The auditorium broke ground in May, and is scheduled to be finished in July.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.

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