Phased renovations possible for CVU auditorium12/18/08

Dec. 18, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Champlain Valley Union High School Board got a clearer picture Monday night of the price tag for renovating the school’s 40-year-old auditorium. The board heard a detailed breakdown of what each improvement would cost, including what a potential phased renovation would look like.

Jules Chatot of Banwell Architects gave the board a presentation about which renovations were a top priority and which ones could wait to be done in another year. Chatot and Banwell, a New Hampshire-based architecture firm, designed the high school’s 2003 renovations.

Principal Sean McMannon said last week the auditorium is the last part of the school still in need of updates from the past renovations.

Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason also presented the board with three different funding options for the auditorium. The board took in all the information and is expected to make a decision by the end of January.

Currently, the board estimates there will be nearly $1.3 million available for renovations, through private donations and in capital funds. The updated total cost of the project, as estimated by Chatot, would be nearly $2.5 million.

Chatot said he looked at what money was available for the project and determined how phasing could look, as well as totaling up the cost of the project once it would be completed in two summers. The auditorium’s facilities committee helped determine which needs were most pressing, he said.

If the board chooses to split the renovations over two summers, the first phase could include a new orchestra pit and stage floor, loft improvements, new dimmers, lighting access through catwalks or tension wires and overall electrical improvements. The total cost comes to around $1.54 million for these items.

The second set of priorities includes new air conditioning and other mechanical improvements, a new sound and light booth, new booth equipment and aisle lighting. The total cost of the second phase would be $928,000.

Chatot also highlighted some “standalone” renovations that could be done at different times, including an improved sound system, box office, stage draperies and other repairs.

“These are portions of the work that could be done out of order, if you will,” Chatot said.

Installing steel catwalks instead of the more expensive tension wires could save money, and Chatot is hoping to get a cheaper bid on an orchestra pit. The savings could be upwards of $200,000, he said.

Mason spoke about different funding options, with two options calling for a bond from voters. But board member Meg Hart-Smith said after the meeting that a bond vote is pretty much out of the question.

That leaves the scenario of completing the first set of renovations for $1.54 million in the summer of 2009, and the second set, at a cost of $928,000, in the summer of 2010. Mason said there was money available to reach the $1.54 million.

The presentation of CVU’s auditorium costs came after Shelburne resident Ann Dutton spoke to the board about keeping costs down this year. She said she hoped the board would think about not increasing the budget. Dutton said she would probably vote for the budget “no matter what,” but she urged the board to be cognizant of the economic struggles some people are having.

“Please look at where we are this year,” Dutton said. “You really have to show concern.”

Hart-Smith said the board is waiting to hear what the final financial picture will look like in January before making decisions on a final voting article. Barring a bond vote, voters will still have to give permission to the board to use already existing capital funds for the auditorium project.

Hart-Smith said it was looking increasingly unlikely a complete renovation would take place this summer, but said something would get done.

“I think every board member wants to see something done,” Hart-Smith said.

Last week, members of the auditorium’s fundraising committee spoke about how private donations from individuals and businesses had slowed to a crawl in recent weeks. Hart-Smith said she didn’t expect any major donations between now and the end of January.

“It’s a tough time to ask for money,” she said.

One major fundraiser is taking place in February. The school will hold a Dance Marathon on Feb. 7 and 8 to benefit the auditorium. Participants will be looking for sponsors as they dance for 16 hours straight.

Hart-Smith said that while the event is occurring after the board will make its decision in January, the money raised could go toward funding a second phase of renovations.

Details of the Dance Marathon and information on how to sponsor can be found on CVU’s Web site,