Nearly 500 people flocked to the Blaine County School District's Community Campus in Hailey on Wednesday evening to see how the building's old auditorium has been remodeled into a state-of-the-art performing arts theater.
"This is way cooler than it was before," said a student who rushed into the new theater too quickly to leave his name.
The student's sentiments seemed to be shared by others who attended the grand opening of the Wood River High School Performing Arts Theater.
"It's a total facelift," said district Business Manager Mike Chatterton. "It turned out better than I expected. It's money well spent."
"I'm excited to be here," said school board Chair Steve Guthrie. "This is a true gift to the community, from the community. Our folks just continue to step up and support our kids."
Wood River High School orchestra musicians, waiting anxiously to perform at the grand opening, seemed equally impressed.
"It's amazing," said musician Sarah Carty. "It's a lot cleaner and bigger and nicer, and the seating is more comfortable."
"It's nicer with the acoustics and the lighting," said fellow musician Kaedi Fry, noting that the orchestra had already rehearsed in the new theater.
"The warm-up room is nice and, oh, the new carpet and the curtains!" raved musician Grace Corham.
Besides new carpet, curtains and seating, the theater also features a new heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, new lighting and sound systems, warm-up and makeup rooms for performers, a new lobby area, easier stage access features, an orchestra pit and catwalks for access to ceiling lighting.
The cost of the remodel, approved by the school board in 2011, was $1.54 million. Funding was through a 10-year $59.8 million plant facilities levy approved by Blaine County voters in 2009.
The levy budget allocated only $880,000 for the project, but the school board voted unanimously to spend additional funds after a more grandiose plan was brought to it by designers and performing arts specialists.
"I haven't had a reservation since I saw what the original budget was for and what this project deserved," said district Trustee Paul Bates. "We're creating something that's going to be used over the next 20 or 30 years and will be amortized. That, and looking at the number of people who are going to benefit, it was well worth it.
"I understand the criticism of exceeding the budget. However, that original line item in the levy was not created to build a theater. The board decided that this community deserved a real performing arts center.
"For me personally, having lived through a lot of performances in the old facility, it was a challenge to survive in there some of the time. The heating and cooling were very poorly engineered for what was in there. It would get up to 80, 85 degrees by the end of a performance. I didn't have a thermometer with me, but it felt like that."
Wednesday's grand opening included tours of the Community Campus, followed by a ribbon cutting in the theater and performances by Wood River High School choral, band, orchestra and drama groups.
In addition to hosting student performances, the theater will be available for use by community performing arts organizations.
"I think it's going to be a wonderful addition to the city of Hailey specifically, and to the county as a whole," said Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman, who attended the grand opening.
Jay Cutler, who along with Ted Macklin designed the sound system, was waiting anxiously for the start of the show.
"I've actually been to rehearsal this afternoon," Cutler said. "I'm pretty excited about the way it sounds.
"I think it's going to be a while before people realize the technical capability. It's extremely flexible. It not only sounds good, it looks good, and a lot of state-of-the-art things went into this."
Silver Creek High School senior Taylor Jameson was handing out brochures and programs for a community service project.
"This is where we get to graduate," Jameson said. "I'm looking forward to it. It's so nice in there. I got to come in and check it out the other day."
Terry Smith: email@example.com