Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Auditorium due for facelift

Arts community has ambitious plans for aging facility

Express Staff Writer

The auditorium at the Community Campus in Hailey has been used for years for theatrical productions, even though it was never designed with performing arts in mind. Now due for renovation, it’s being considered for remodeling into a performing arts center for the Wood River Valley. Shown here are members of the Wood River High School Wolverine Players in dress rehearsal for their 2010 performance of “Curtains.” Photo by Mountain Express

The Blaine County School District has funds available to renovate the auditorium at the Community Campus in Hailey, but representatives of the local performing arts community have more grandiose plans for the aging facility.

Instead of it being just an auditorium, members of the arts community envision the facility as a future first-class performing arts center for the Wood River Valley. But how to fund that remains an issue.

The school district has $880,000 available to renovate the auditorium, funding that was approved in a 10-year, $59.8 million plant facilities levy passed by voters in 2009. But district Business Manager Mike Chatterton said Tuesday that the $880,000 will only give the facility a "facelift" to bring it up to modern standards. Any additional improvements are not currently funded.

The Community Campus, owned by the school district, housed Wood River High School until the new school campus was built nearby. Now 34 years old, the auditorium was not designed with theatrical performances in mind, but has been used that way for years by school and outside arts groups alike. But not without complaints.

"The lighting is bad, the sound is bad, the seating is old," said Paul Bates, a member of the district board of trustees and the board representative on a district advisory committee studying how the facility can be improved. "There are a lot of things that need to be upgraded. It's kind of a bare-bones auditorium the way it is now.

"The arts community is trying to identify what it will take to make it a better performing arts facility. I would personally like to see it be more than just a high school auditorium."

Planning is still in the early stages. The advisory committee was formed last fall and the school district earlier this month advertised for proposals for an architectural design team.

Chatterton said once a design team is chosen, it will provide the district with two options: one for the auditorium facelift and a second, more ambitious, option for turning the facility into a performing arts center.

"What that will do is allow the board to decide how far they want to go with this project," Chatterton said, adding that funding for a performing arts center would likely require community assistance.

The advisory committee is largely composed of school district performing arts faculty and members of the local arts community, including representatives of Company of Fools, Sun Valley Center for the Arts, the Footlight Dance Centre and Caritas Chorale.

Changes being considered by the committee include building an orchestra pit, providing improved access to the stage for performers, installing more comfortable seating, building additional makeup and dressing rooms, and installing new sound and lighting systems.

Hilarie Neely, committee liaison to the school board and the owner of Footlight Dance Centre, said the arts community would like to see the facility converted into a theater because "it's the largest indoor venue in our community."

She acknowledged that the arts community would benefit from having a performing arts center, but said a greater purpose would be to support district students.

"First and foremost, it's for our students," Neely said. "If we want to provide a first-class education, then we have to give them a facility where they can excel. But it's also for the community, because every single person will benefit at some level."

Terry Smith:

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