Proposed auditorium would provide students,
community place to hold concerts, plays

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 11/10/99.

(Editor's note: On Tuesday, Dec. 14, the voters in the Paynesville Area School District will be asked to vote on a $3.4 million building project that includes a fitness center and auditorium.

The Paynesville Press will be featuring different components of the bond issue. The fitness center was featured last week. This week we examine the auditorium proposal and next week the tax impact.)

Supporters for a new auditorium are advocating the need for a place to hold concerts and plays. At present, the district does not have an auditorium. Music groups and plays do not have a space to rehearse with their props or sound system.

At middle school concerts, parents have had to set up and take down folding chairs as there is not adequate seating in the bleachers for programs in the middle school gym.

Following every high school concert, be it a band or choir concert, parents are asked to help remove chairs and decora-tions from the gym to make the room ready for physical education classes the next day.

Superintendent Howard Caldwell said the proposed auditorium will be located on the north side of the school where the present tennis courts are now situated. The auditorium will seat 499 people. The seating number was kept at this level to avoid paying higher royalties for plays. The stage is being designed large enough to hold the school concert band.

"We wanted a facility large enough to accommodate a band for a concert performances," Caldwell added. "The size will be comparable to other districts we looked at. We feel it is a good size."

Click here for a chart comparing area schools' auditoriums.

Auditorium design
Paynesville native, Troy Miller, the project architect, said the floor in the auditorium would be tiered, like stadium seating. There would be 16 rows of seating from top to bottom. Each row would be about nine inches higher than the previous row. The difference in elevation would be 12 feet from the top row to the front row.

Click here for a drawing of the auditorium

"The tiered seating makes for a more intimate environment," Miller said. "The person in the back row will be able to see over everybody." The staggered seating will enable people in the auditorium to look over the shoulders of the people in front of them.

Miller added that the auditorium seats will not all be the same size. Some of the seats will be designed wider for larger people. These seats will be scattered throughout the auditorium.

The distance from the front thrust of the stage to the center of the auditorium will be about 45 feet. The middle of the auditorium will be the same level as the stage. The person sitting in the front row will be three feet lower than the stage floor.

Miller said they are designing a lighting and sound package for the Paynesville auditorium. An average package costs about $500,000 and consists of a sound reinforcement system, curtains, microphones, specialty lighting, stage rigging, lighting control panels, and speakers.

Acoustically, the room will be laid out with a sloped floor, and the walls will contain angles for better acoustics. "There will be no 90 degree corners in the room," Miller said. "The walls will be a rough texture surface which will help carry voices and keep the sound lively."

The ceiling will have floating panels, called open clouds, similar to what is in the ceiling of the high school band room. The floating panels will also enhance the acoustics of the room.

The plans call for the sound and lighting system controls to be located in the center of the auditorium. Miller said they are making provisions in the plan so there is a second control room overhead, if the district ever wants to relocate the controls.

The mechanical units—air exchanger, heating, lighting, and possibly cooling—will be housed in an overhead area above the lobby between the gym and auditorium.

"The new auditorium will be a self- sufficient facility," Miller added. "There will be bathrooms, three storage areas, and a scene shop." The plans are designed so the new facility can be closed off from the high school during after hours activities.

The new lobby will be located between the auditorium and the gym. The hallway between the fitness center and auditorium is designed to be the new entrance into the school for sporting events. The new entrance will be located close to the north parking lot, eliminating the long walk to the west entrance.

Band concerts
Bryan Mara, high school band director, said it is very difficult to perform a concert in the gym without rehearsing there first. "When playing an instrument, it makes an entirely different sound in the gym than in the band room," Mara said. "The kids run into problems when they are not used to practicing in a room with poor acoustics."

"Our students have done unbelievable musicals considering they have not been able to build sets and use them until the day of the performance," Mara added.

Last year, Mara and a crew of students went into the school on Sunday to set up for a Monday concert. They spent six hours setting up chairs, lighting, and sound equipment. Upon waking up Monday morning, it had snowed overnight and school was cancelled. They had to take everything down on Monday because there was a sporting event scheduled in the gym for Tuesday night.

"If the district had an auditorium, we could have left everything in place for the rescheduled concert date," Mara said. Mara stressed the importance of students being able to rehearse with microphones before the concert. For many programs, the students do not have the opportunity to use a microphone until the performance.

The high school bands (senior and junior band) take part in three festivals a year. "The only festival we can host is the solo and ensemble groups because we don't have space to host large groups like a concert band," he said.

Choir concerts
An auditorium advocate for many years, Cheryl Bungum, middle and high school choir director, said there is a need for an area with suitable acoustics that would enhance the ability of students to perform and hear their parts.

"It would be great to have a place to rehearse and perform concerts," said Bungum, a member of the task force. "The addition of proper stage lighting and a sound system would be a bonus. Now, we have to completely put up and take down our lights and sound system for every concert."

The choir department has three practice rooms in the high school where students should be able to rehearse. However, only one can be used at present. Two rehearsal rooms are being used for storage. With 1,111 square feet of new storage being built into the building proposal, Bungum is hoping to fee up the rehearsal rooms for student use again.

The proposed auditorium design also features a small area between the stage and the first row of seats for a live musical ensemble to perform for plays or school musicals, instead of recorded music.

"The acoustics in the auditorium would be designed for performing arts performance rather than physical education," Bungum added.

Drama department
If the auditorium is approved, Ken Vork, middle school band director and current play director, envisions more students being willing to take part in school productions.

"At present, kids are reluctant to take part because of all the work involved. They aren't afraid of the rehearsal time or learning their parts, but going without sleep the last week before the performance because they have to work under unrealistic conditions," said Vork, a task force member.

Before the "Wizard of Oz" production last spring, the cast had to set up and take down the backdrops and props needed for the musical each day. "We only had two days prior to the performance when we could work with our backdrops in place. The physical education classes worked around our stuff," he added, "which weren't ideal conditions and a tremendous incon-venience for everyone involved."

Vork praised the patience of the physical education teachers for their cooperation in having their classroom space invaded by either the band, choir, or drama groups for programs.

Vork and a cast of 25 students are presently working on "Scrooge." For some students, taking part in school plays is an option they have to meet the performing arts graduation standards. "By having an auditorium, it would be easier for students to meet this standard," Vork added.

"I would like to see Paynesville have a tradition of holding musicals like other districts," Vork said. "It is hard to get such a tradition going without a place to rehearse."

Erin Kehr, co-director with Vork on "Scrooge," has been working in theater 15 years. Following the first public meeting in October, Kehr talked with the architects about the needs for drama peformances.

"I feel the auditorium will have every-thing needed. The money is being spent sensibly and the designs are sensibly done. If approved, the people of Paynesville have a nice theater which will be a great asset to the community," Kehr added.

"An auditorium will provide the students a place to express themselves, provide them another outlet to discover who they are. To deny them this opportunity would be criminal. We need to show the kids we care who they are and what they do," said Kehr.

"Voting down the auditorium proposal would say that wrestling or basketball is more important than the band or choir. We need to provide them with an auditorium so they can achieve their goals and boost their confidence," Kehr said.

The new auditorium would have make-up rooms and design shops, plus additional storage space. The costumes for the choir, band, and drama department are currently being stored in the art room.

The design features a 1,560 square-foot scene shop where students could build backdrops for drama and musical productions. The shop will have two large overhead doors to enable students to move large pieces of scenery from the shop onto the stage.

The make-up room will feature a 4' by 30' miror and 20 lockers for the students to store their clothing.

Community use
Bungum envisions touring groups coming to Paynesville once the auditorium is built. Among the groups she mentions are the Children's Theatre, Minnesota Opera, Artist in Residence series, and the St. Paul Orchestra. The school could also host arts festivals for large and small contests.

"We would have a better chance of bringing in more large groups to perform for the community if we had a place for them to perform," Mara emphasized. "There are a lot of traveling groups which do performances all across the state."

Mara said another possibility is bringing in a concert series where a band or choir would perform once a month.

"In working with schools that have theaters, I have never heard a complaint of the facility being under used. Theaters can be used for many different functions," Kehr said.

"The community of Paynesville definitely has talent and could use a space for productions unlike a gym," Kehr said.

The proposed auditorium could hold other community events, such as senior citizen events, city meetings, political meetings, region Lions or Jaycee meetings, recitals, art shows, and Miss Paynesville Pageant.

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