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Could this be the site for new arts center?

Wide-ranging community group has been working toward a plan to build regional arts venue at ConVal

  • ConVal students will perform the classic musical "West Side Story" next week in the Lucy Hurlin Theater.

    ConVal students will perform the classic musical "West Side Story" next week in the Lucy Hurlin Theater.

  • ConVal students will perform the classic musical "West Side Story" next week in the Lucy Hurlin Theater.

One of the prominent buzzwords in education these days is STEM, which is actually an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. A number of parents and others from our community might like to change STEM to STEAM, by adding “A” for Arts to the mix.

Recognizing the high value of arts education, a group of arts enthusiasts from the ConVal School District began meeting in the fall of 2012, with principal Brian Pickering and theater teacher Liz Moore carefully leading the way in imagining a new visual and performing arts center at ConVal High School. This diverse group, made up of parents, current and retired teachers, administrators and community members, has seized upon an idea that has been floating around this community for years: a new facility that can serve the needs of all branches of the arts at ConVal High School.

In fact, there is a quite an enormous empty space behind the hallway, beyond the main entry doors of the school, which was supposed to be the site of an actual performing arts venue/auditorium when the school was built. Looking out over this vacant space from the hallway, it looks like an outdoor amphitheater. But, as with many dreams deferred, the funds apparently could not be mustered to build the facility, and so it was not built. “Build it and they will come,” it has been said.

The intent is for a new facility to provide not just adequate but excellent design, lighting, equipment, technology, storage, acoustics, seating, aesthetics, “green” construction for sustainability, and gallery exhibition areas to be used and enjoyed by both the student body and the greater community. Another hope for such a space is to enhance the overall educational experience of all students, teachers, administrators and employees of the school, strengthening the school’s aspiration to be among New Hampshire’s “high performing” schools.

Both a “Wish List” and a “Needs List” were created by the group in brainstorming sessions to establish what such a facility should include. Members of the committee visited other (high-performing) New Hampshire and Massachusetts secondary schools, known to have high quality performing arts venues, to ascertain what the schools and their communities value most highly in their facilities.

Although funds are never easy to secure for major construction projects, it is the group’s hope that members of the community will recognize the need for a new visual and performing arts facility, and support such an initiative. While the Lucy Hurlin Theater (a converted lecture hall) serves many needs admirably, it is neither large enough nor well-equipped enough to mount dramatic productions, dance performances or musical concerts without numerous safety hazards, inconveniences, artistic constraints and other drawbacks, with respect to lighting, acoustics, square footage, seating, handicapped accessibility and other requirements.

Soon, efforts to mount a campaign to finance this multi-purpose regional resource will be underway. ConVal principal Brian Pickering believes that such a resource “would be a great investment in our community.” He adds, “We know budgets are tight and the price tag is high, but this team will be tenacious in its pursuit to make so many dreams come true.”

The group hopes this initiative will garner support among all members of the community. A new visual and performing arts center would offer area residents the opportunity to enjoy all of the arts in a beautiful, thoughtfully designed facility that also provides both up-to-date technology and practical necessities. Such a facility would immeasurably enrich the lives of both students and community members of this region.

Martha Eichler lives in Peterborough.

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