CVU auditorium on track for September debut (7/30/09)

Construction work comes in under budget

July 30, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

All summer long, the Champlain Valley Union High School auditorium has been undergoing a dramatic change. Where rows of seats formerly faced an old and uneven stage now sits a large, green bulldozer. Mounds of dirt surround a large crater in the ground, representing where an orchestra pit will be installed. The deafening sound of high-powered drills is all that can be heard as construction crews prepare to install a series of catwalks above the auditorium’s floors.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Construction equipment at Champlain Valley Union High School surrounds a recently completed concrete structure, which will turn into the CVU auditorium’s new orchestra pit. Crews have been renovating the 40-year-old space since mid-June.

The auditorium’s renovation is well under way and, by all accounts, right on schedule. The 40-year-old space, which was not updated when CVU underwent major renovations in 2003, is finally getting its due. Gone will be the out-of-date stage area, tiny technical booth and orchestra room that doubled as a closet. In their place will be state-of-the-art equipment to make CVU’s auditorium the envy of other high school theater groups, said Principal Sean McMannon.

“There haven’t been a lot of new auditoriums built around the area in the last 10 to 15 years,” McMannon said.

The renovations are scheduled to be completed on Sept. 1, one day before freshmen begin their year at CVU. McMannon said more work might need to be done after that date, but he doesn’t foresee it lasting more than a week. After all, the theater classes and groups are due to start using the space almost immediately.

“We haven’t run into any major snafus yet, which is a good thing,” McMannon said.

Berlin-based Summit/Catamount Construction is handling the project and McMannon, along with CVU Director of Maintenance Kurt Proulx, are more than pleased with the work that’s been completed.

“I think it’s going to be great when it’s all done,” Proulx said. “(The old auditorium) had already reached its limit of usability.”

Initially, construction was to be completed in two phases, costing an estimated $2.5 million. But the project came in far below estimates at $1.4 million. The administration and School Board decided it would be more cost effective to complete the renovation during one phase this summer.

“You end up incurring a lot of additional costs when you phase a project,” McMannon explained.

He said the economic recession and the effects it’s had on the construction industry helped keep costs well below what was projected.

Most of the project’s funding came from money CVU already had on hand — $537,000 came from leftover construction funds from the 2003 renovations and $755,000 from the school’s general fund balance. Voters approved the use of the money in March.

Fundraising efforts and private donations also raised an estimated $185,000, according to Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

Work began the day students finished school in June. Crews immediately removed seats in the auditorium to make way for heavy equipment.

One of the most notable additions to the space is the new orchestra pit, where musicians will sit and play music to accompany the performances on stage. Before, musicians were put in a tiny loft located stage right during shows. Now the band will be front and center, providing better sound while still remaining out of site for performances.

The stage will signify a major improvement, as well. The previous stage had been repaired through the years in a patchwork style. As a result, it was uneven and unsafe. Now, crews will install a brand new maple-floored stage.

Outside the auditorium, a new booth for tickets and concessions is in the middle of construction. Tickets will no longer be sold from a collapsible table in front of the facility’s doors, McMannon said.

Once the auditorium is completed, Proulx said members of his staff will familiarize themselves with its inner workings. He said there will need to be a lot of training with staff, theater and technical students to ensure everyone is on the same page.

McMannon said he’s thrilled students will now be able to learn and perform in an auditorium suitable for the school.

Proulx said he’s most excited about one thing: “I want to see the smiles on everyone’s faces when this is all done.”