The Blaine County School District board of trustees decided unanimously Monday night to spend an additional $660,000 to convert the auditorium at the district-owned Community Campus in Hailey into a modern performing arts center.
The vote came at a standing-room-only special school board meeting at the district office. Public comment heard at the meeting overwhelming supported the project.
Even Penfield Stroh, a Hailey resident often critical of school board financial decisions, said she favored spending the extra money to convert the auditorium into a theater.
"I have to say I'm really excited about this project," Stroh said. "I think this is money well spent for what we're going to get out of it."
The motion to approve was made by Trustee Kathryn Graves and seconded by Trustee Shawn Bennion. Trustees Don Nurge and Paul Bates and board Chair Steve Guthrie joined them in voting affirmative.
The auditorium remodel proposal, projected to cost $1.54 million, was brought to the school board at its regular monthly meeting on Sept. 13. At that time, Guthrie, Bates and Bennion were ready to vote but agreed to delay until the special meeting at the request of Nurge and Graves, who said they wanted more time to consider the proposal and to hear what the public had to say.
Six days later, Nurge and Graves had made their decisions.
"Our schools do need a nice auditorium," Graves said. "We did all receive many, many favorable comments. I feel good about what the committee has put together."
Graves was referring to an auditorium advisory committee composed of performing arts teachers in the school district and representatives of performing arts organizations in the community who studied the auditorium proposal for about a year before bringing a recommendation to the board.
"We've received a lot of public comment in the last few days and I think that's great," Nurge said. "At this time, I'm comfortable with what I'm seeing."
Nurge told the committee that the $1.54 million is the maximum the district will spend, suggested they look at community funding to help defray costs and noted that "sacrifices may need to be made elsewhere for this to go forward."
The $1.54 million is about $660,000, or 75 percent more, than the $880,000 allocated for auditorium renovation in a 10-year $59.8 million plant facilities levy approved by Blaine County voters in 2009. Plans at that time were to bring the facility up to modern standards but did not include converting the auditorium into a theater.
Bellevue resident Jeff Neel, who served on a district strategic planning committee that put together cost estimates for the levy, said that in 2009 "we didn't envision what was needed."
"I think we never did have an adequate budget to begin with," Neel said.
District Business Manager Mike Chatterton said the additional funding can be taken from savings on other levy projects, such as a site improvement plan at Carey School that was originally estimated in the levy at $1.7 million but that he now believes can be done at $1.3 million.
The district hopes to have the auditorium remodel completed by the end of January 2012.
It will be used primarily by student groups, but will also be available for rent by community organizations.
"It doesn't need to be about making money," said Max Stimac, Wood River High School choral director. "It needs to be about quality of life in our community."
Terry Smith: email@example.com