Auditoriums: If you build one, will they come?

Germantown School mulls new auditorium

GERMANTOWN—The Board of Education of the Germantown Central School District spent October and November considering a $4.7-million capital project in general and a new auditorium in particular. The auditorium would be an additional project that would cost, depending on size, somewhere between $3.4 million (350 seats) and $8 million (500 seats).

Currently the school uses the cafetorium for assemblies, Drama Club productions and other activities.

Ron Moore, president of the school board, said Friday that he expected the board to have specific “financials”—costs—on the projects for its December 10 meeting.

After the board decides the scale of the entire capital project, with or without the auditorium, that decision goes to the state Education Department for review. State aid would equal 58.8% of the cost, David Sammel, the district’s architect, said at the October 8 meeting.

The state generally reviews such projects promptly, said Mr. Moore—within a week. Only after that review could the board write and pass a resolution to put before the voters.

In the meantime, board members appear to support the basic $4.7-million project, the parts of which were developed by the district’s Community Facilities Committee. Board members discussed the auditorium among themselves and with the audience in two public meetings, October 29 and November 12.

Various board members have said that 350 seats is too small, 500 seats too large, with 400 or 450 seats the possible number. Mr. Moore has said he would like to see costs on all sizes.

Speaking from the audience at the October 29 meeting, James Campion, a parent of three students in the district, suggested that the board look at the capital project “as a whole package. Baseball and softball fields”—the renovation of which is estimated at $1 million—“and an auditorium are equally as valuable,” he said. “It’s hard to weigh one against the other.”

Germantown “can still have great educational programming,” he said. “Programming drives capital investment. If we upgrade the fields, we have better teams. Productions in a new auditorium would bring in more people. Germantown is poised at the edge of doing something really great, to enhance education.”

Mr. Campion did endorse “the-smaller-the-better on the theater. The last thing a kid wants to do is perform to a half-empty house. You could lower costs by not building a monument.”

At the November 12 meeting, Mr. Campion brought in the number of seats for other school auditoriums in the county, including 1,100 for Taconic Hills, 1,000 for Hudson and 415 for Columbia-Greene Community College. At that time he urged the board to plan by square footage, not seats.

In a December 3 telephone interview, Mr. Campion stressed that when he speaks at school board meetings, it’s as a district parent and taxpayer, not as the president, since 2000, of Columbia-Greene Community College.

When the college was planning its theater in the late 1980s, “one thought was to have it big enough for graduation,” said Mr. Campion, who has been associated with C-GCC since the mid 1970s. “But that would mean a facility for 1,200 people that got used once a year.”

Instead, graduation is held in the gym, and the theater is “program-driven,” he said. The design is multipurpose, for theater, music, lectures and assemblies. Nursing graduates receive their pins in the theater, the Police Academy holds its graduation there and Questar III uses it for ceremonies.

“The number of seats came down to what we could fill,” said Mr. Campion. Further, in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the light and sound booth had to be at floor level, not elevated.

“A comprehensive school district needs a theater, a performing arts space,” said Mr. Campion about Germantown. “To me, 300 to 350 seats would help create an academic space that right now doesn’t exist. Germantown has a growing arts community. You could invite people to give programs there.”

In addition to its Gemini Series of theater, dance and music, the college has a rental agreement for community use. “It’s great to have people on campus,” said Mr. Campion. “My angle with Germantown is, invite people in!”

The Germantown School has about 600 students in grades K-12. Columbia-Greene’s current enrollment is 2,050, plus 3,500 noncredit students, according to its website. The Hudson City School district has 1,850 students in grades K-12.

“I don’t know what we would do without it,” Maria Suttmeier, Hudson district superintendent, said of the auditorium (also called the Performing Arts Center) in the Junior-Senior High School.

Graduation is held in the auditorium “and that way we’re not extremely limited, each family has six tickets,” said Ms. Suttmeier. Meetings of junior and senior Honor Societies and sports awards may not fill the space to capacity, she said, “but it’s comfortable and gives the event a special feeling.”

Opening day events do fill the auditorium, she said. “Teachers, aides, staff, students—everyone gathers to hear about the direction and vision for the school year.”

The school holds its concerts there and has hosted all-county band, which “rotates around schools that have the capacity for it,” said Ms. Suttmeier. Popular events, such as a recent production of “Annie,” fill the auditorium

This past fall Power of Peace workshops took place in the auditorium, bringing together groups of students who work with a trainer. The size of the auditorium offers a mix of private and shared space, “a safe place for students to discuss things that may be of concern to them,” said Ms. Suttmeier.

The Taconic Hills Central School District has 1,500 students, down from 1,900 in 1998-99, when its 1,100-seat Performing Arts Center was built, as part of the new school. “They wanted the majority of students, faculty and staff to be in one auditorium,” said Superintendent Neil L. Howard Jr.

Today, the auditorium is used for graduation, assemblies and public performances produced by the school and community groups. Most recently the Hudson Valley Academy of Performing Arts danced “Nutcracker” there, with over 500 in the audience, said Mr. Howard.

“At the start of the school year, grades pre-k through 6 meet in an assembly—800 students, plus adults—to go over the code of conduct,” he said. “Class meetings are held there, and faculty conferences. It gets used quite a lot,” said Mr. Howard.



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