ConVal: Board approves theater fundraising

  • Robert Eichler, left, and Elizabeth Marble present a vision for a performing arts center at ConVal High School to the ConVal School Board on Tuesday.
  • Robert Eichler, left, and Elizabeth Marble present a vision for a performing arts center at ConVal High School to the ConVal School Board on Tuesday.

PETERBOROUGH — ConVal School Board members gave the go-ahead for a fundraising campaign to support construction of a new performing arts space at ConVal High School, a move that drew applause from supporters of the project at Tuesday’s School Board meeting.

Rob Eichler and Elizabeth Marble, members of a group called the ConVal Visual and Performing Arts Center Committee, told the board that the district is known for its thriving arts programs, but comes up short on facilities. They said the Lucy Hurlin Theatre, which was originally designed as a lecture hall, lacks features to support full-scale performances. The theater also has only 200 seats, and Eichler said many people were frustrated when they couldn’t get into the school’s recent performances of “West Side Story.” Band and chorus performances have to be held in the gym, because the stage in the theater is not large enough to accommodate the number of students in those groups.

“It’s clearly a valuable space,” Eichler said about the Lucy Hurlin Theatre. “It would continue to be used, but for events more in line with its original purpose and suited to its scale.”

“A musical group that has worked for months wants to perform in an acoustically solid hall, not in a gymnasium,” Marble said. “An artist does not want his or her work displayed in a space designed for sweat and cheers.”

ConVal Principal Brian Pickering said the group is modeling its campaign on the successful fundraising effort that paid for lighting at the school’s football and soccer field several years ago.

“That campaign was separate from the budget, organized and funded privately,” Pickering told the board. “The magnitude of this is much greater. We’re asking you to allow us to pursue a campaign to someday put an arts center on campus. It’s a dream of dozens and dozens and dozens of people.”

Eichler said the group expects the center could be built in the vacant space between the main building and the gymnasium wing of the school, so it could share the same entry that students use. He said the center would include instructional space, dressing rooms and adequate backstage facilities, as well as a box office and concession stand.

Eichler and Marble did not specify how large the performance space would be. Kennett High School, which has 871 students, has a 500-seat facility and Kingswood High School with 750 students, can seat 850 people. ConVal has 912 students, which means the Lucy Hurlin Theatre can accommodate just 22 percent of students.

“That is clearly inadequate for ConVal,” Marble said. “However, we don’t need to seat 100 percent of the students. There is a happy medium to be found.”

Pickering said the group has not yet obtained hard numbers on the cost to build a theater similar to the ones at Kennett or Kingswood. He said Tim Grossi, the district’s facilities manager, has estimated the cost to be $5 million to $6 million, but one of the first steps would be to hire an architect and start to put together a more detailed proposal. That will help the group decide what fundraising target is needed.

Eichler and Marble asked the board for permission to start fundraising and permission to plan to build in the space behind the main entrance. Marble said the group has not started soliciting donors, because they wanted to get support of the School Board first.

In response to a question from Board Chair Butch Estey of Peterborough, Eichler said he wasn’t sure if the ongoing costs to run the center could be funded separate from the school district budget.

“We definitely believe you could bring in money by renting the hall,” Marble said.

The board unanimously approved the group’s request to start a campaign,

“It’s a no-brainer to give you approval for fundraising,” said board member Matt Craig of Sharon.

“Now it’s time for the visual arts,” said Stewart Brock of Francestown. “You have my full support.”

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