CVU wants $1 million for auditorium upgrades 9/25/08

Sept. 25, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Full of energy and enthusiasm fit for the stage, theatre arts teacher Robin Fawcett thinks it’s time her classroom gets a face-lift — her classroom being the Champlain Valley Union High School auditorium.

Observer photo by Tim Simard
Theatre arts teacher Robin Fawcett stands in the Champlain Valley Union High School auditorium, which school officials want to renovate as early as next year.

She’s not the only one with that opinion. CVU School Board members and administrators agree the 44-year-old auditorium is in dire need of renovation.

Currently, excess cables run throughout the giant room and the facilities lighting is lacking, not to mention sometimes non-functional and unsafe, according to Fawcett. The auditorium has a worn look, she said.

“I think our community deserves walking into a space that reflects the quality of the work and the quality of the learning that goes on here,” Fawcett said.

Sarah Tischler, co-chairwoman of the auditorium fundraising committee, agrees, and said the facility could be much more beneficial to students and the community if it were brought into the 21st century.

“The whole school is so phenomenal and the auditorium is not,” she said. “This needs to change.”

But to do so, CVU will have to raise more than $1 million in private donations.

Life of the auditorium


The CVU auditorium has a long and storied history in regard to renovations. Other than what Fawcett calls “band-aid” repairs and new seats installed in 2005, the auditorium has essentially remained unchanged since it was built in 1964.

According to CVU School Board member Meg Hart-Smith, a new auditorium — separate from the main building — was to be built starting in 2003 as part of the school-wide renovation project, which included a new wing and athletic fields. However, the high costs of the project, exceeding $20 million, was voted down and officials had to come up with a cheaper alternative, which excluded the auditorium.

Last year, the board planned to bring a bond vote to voters in November for auditorium funding, but the Vermont Legislature put a moratorium on state aid for all new school construction projects. Improvements to the auditorium were again put on hold.

With the moratorium continuing into the foreseeable future, the board decided to seek private funds to finish the renovation goal.

Hart-Smith said the total estimate of the renovation is $2.3 million. Of that, more than $800,000 is being allocated from CVU’s capital funds, as well as leftover monies from the last massive renovation. Tischler said the board is hoping to find another $200,000 in public funds as well.

The remaining funds would have to come from private donations, Tischler said, adding the school is looking to raise a little more than $1 million. More than $250,000 has already been raised through fundraisers and donations, she said.

Hart-Smith said the goal is to have all the money raised by the summer of 2009, so construction can begin and be completed in October 2009. The board must first bring the issue to the voters, as they will have to approve the use of the existing public funds. She said the plan is to bring the renovations to the ballot for a March Town Meeting Day vote.

Facility upgrades


The updates will bring the auditorium into the modern age in terms of aesthetics, technology and safety, Fawcett said.

The lighting and wiring systems are inefficient and need to be updated to be “greener” and safer. According to Fawcett, when a bulb burns out now, which is often, a precarious process involving scaffolding, harnesses and ropes is employed to replace the bulb. It’s not the safest process, she said.

The new system would involve high-tension wires that students could walk along, making it a safer process, which CVU Principal Sean McMannon is happy to see.

“We’re currently within code (for safety), but we’re just hanging on,” he said.

Another major change involves the stage area. According to Fawcett, the stage will be completely rebuilt and extended. There will be an added pit for an orchestra. Bands will no longer have to play in the upper reaches of a loft on stage right.

Andy Miskavage, CVU’s music director, said he’s shuffled as many as 20 band members into the tiny space but would welcome a more professional set up.

“The pit puts kids in a more comfortable environment and we all perform better when we’re comfortable,” Miskavage said.

Other changes include air conditioning and a new sound booth. The plans are music to the ears of Fawcett and school administrators.

“I think the community will get every penny back if something happens,” Fawcett said.

To make a donation or to find out more on the CVU Auditorium project, contact your local CVU School Board representative.