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Education

Auditoriums: How Some Ohio Schools Get Around Expensive Proposition of Building New Auditoriums

photo of Washington Court House auditorium
DAN KONIK
/
STATEHOUSE NEWS BUREAU
Much of the renovation work on the Washington Court House auditorium (pictured) was funded through community contributions and money from the capital budget.

School districts that are building new schools with state money are sometimes surprised by one of the rules. The money cannot be used for auditoriums. That creates some tough decisions for districts.

The historic auditorium in Washington Court House in south central Ohio has served the local school district since 1939. It has newly upholstered seats, air conditioning and a pipe organ that's been restored through a combination of community contributions and money from the state’s capital budget.

Pam Feick, a retired school counselor, spearheaded those efforts. She says the auditorium is a vital part of the community.

“I used this when I was a little kid and all of the folks who have gone through the school district here reminisce about being in a choir concert or being in a performance or a band thing, and so it’s important to the community,” she said.

'A sloped-floor, fixed-seat auditorium is one of the most expensive spaces to build inside a school building. So it would take up a lot of money for a room that doesn't have a whole lot of purposes.'

Feick is now writing grants for new rigging and improvements to the lighting. None of the work could be paid for with funds from the state when the district built new schools years ago. The state wouldn’t provide money to build a new auditorium in the schools either.

Rick Savors with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission says there’s good reason why the state doesn’t allow districts to build new auditoriums or fix up old ones.

“If you take a look at the cost per square foot, a sloped-floor, fixed-seat auditorium is one of the most expensive spaces to build inside a school building. So it would take up a lot of money for a room that doesn’t have a whole lot of purposes,” he said.

The pros and cons
The new superintendent at the Washington Court House City Schools understands  conundrum.

photo of Washington Court House
Credit DAN KONIK / STATEHOUSE NEWS BUREAU
/
STATEHOUSE NEWS BUREAU
Rick Savors with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission says that auditoriums are simply too expensive to build in a school.

Tom Bailey worked for the Three Rivers Local School District near Cincinnati when it built a new school. He says a lot of debate, thought and even tears went into the decision of what to do with the district’s old auditorium.

“We ended up selling our building. It was bought by a church. They demolished it and used the land. However, out of it, we got a $7 million state-of-the-art facility which rivals ...  if you are familiar with Hamilton County, ... the School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

"We have 24 fly systems in our auditorium. We have a built- in orchestra pit into the stage. ... The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra agreed to do our opening concert because they could fit 120 musicians on our stage,” he said.

'You have better acoustics, better lighting, better performing venue for the students, and you can also rent that facility out for public use.'

An hour northeast of Washington Court House is the Lancaster City School district. Superintendent Steve Wigton is facing similar decisions. His district is in the middle of a building campaign.

Five new elementary schools have cafetoriums or cafeterias with a stage on one wall. State money cwas used for those. And while Wigton says the junior high schools, now under construction, won’t have auditoriums like the ones in the current middle schools, they will have what are called “auditeriums” instead.

What's an auditerium?
“Your student-dining area, they co-fund that, co-fund the stage. So what we did was get retractable auditorium seating ... similar to athletic bleachers.

"We’ll have seating for 650 and so that’s how we resolved the issue," he said.

He says a focus group came up with the auditerium option. He says the retractable seating for the junior highs in his district is fully funded by local dollars. But when it comes to replacing the district’s high school with a new one a few years from now, Wigton says it will have a dedicated auditorium.

“You have better acoustics, better lighting, better performing venue for the students, and you can also rent that facility out for public use,” he said.

School leaders say real auditoriums are really important to school districts, so most build some sort of performance space into their new buildings, even if the state won’t pay for dedicated auditorium.