Board will weigh sponsorship pros and cons

HINESBURG There doesnt seem to be many dissenters when the need for renovation and upgrading of the auditorium at Champlain Valley Union High School is discussed. However the best way to pay for the project brings out a wide range of opinions. A discussion item on the agenda for the school board meeting next Wednesday, April 11 at 7 p.m. may help reach a decision. Since last summer when the teachers of music and drama, and parents whose children are involved in theater, band or choral music at the high school, took the members of the school board on a tour of the auditorium, from the barely accessible loft for the pit band and the tiny wings to the lack of features that would expand the opportunity for theater technology training, there has been a steady refrain of support from the board for the idea of improvements. The consensus is that the work on the auditorium which was taken out of the bond vote five years ago to make the price tag more attractive to the voters who had turned down the $29 million project, is long overdue. The question of fairness to students whose area of interest is the arts when major improvements have already been made to the sports facilities is frequently raised, and the faculty members speak of stage craft classes that would attract students to the school. An ad hoc committee of board members and community volunteers worked with architects last fall to sketch out the changes that would make the auditorium a more safe, flexible, useful facility, and came up with a price tag of $1.2 million to accomplish it. The committee suggested that the board consider a blend of public fund raising and bonding for the project. Facing the possibility of tackling a fund raising campaign that might include sponsorships with the opportunity for naming some part of the new facility in exchange for a gift, the board decided to put off the public vote on the project until next fall, and in the meantime to come up with a plan for the fund raising project. One thorny subject, discussed at many board meetings, has been whether sponsorships and naming possibilities should be encouraged as a way to fund public education, and what the board policy should be. At an early March meeting of the board, the idea of using the auditorium project as a trial run for fund raising was discussed, and at the March 26 meeting there was a brief discussion of the possibility of state funding being lost because of a moratorium on school construction, but action on the policy on fund raising was delayed to the April 11 meeting. The next meeting should be an interesting one with a careful look at fund raising issues, recommendations based on the extensive experience with sponsorships in other parts of the country, and perhaps a move toward a decision. According to a timeline for the project, presented at the last board meeting, the ad hoc auditorium committee should have final plans for the project ready for board approval at the beginning of June based on input gained at community meetings during the first half of May. Final plans, revised and refined by the Construction Manager and the Architect, would go to the School Board by mid-August, to the Department of Education for review by mid-September, and to the voters in early November. Construction for the project, if it is approved, would begin in the summer of 2008.

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