The School Board approved with a 5-0 vote sending to the March 2015 ballot a warrant article asking voters for $500,000 to fund architecture and engineering services for the proposed construction of a “School Community Auditorium.”
Proponents of the proposed auditorium, which has been estimated to cost the town around $8.9 million, urged the board to move forward with the process as quickly as possible to maintain a surge in momentum for the project.
“We have more interest out there than ever before,” said Auditorium Committee member Jerry Gulezian, who was at the polls during last week’s primary election to inform voters about the project. “We have great people here willing to go out and hit the streets.”
The project has been broken into two phases: the first is for $500,000 for architecture and engineering services, and the second is construction of the proposed 28,800-square- foot facility.
If the warrant article to fund architecture and engineering for the project passes, a Building Committee would come into being.
Tony DeFrancesco, chairman of the Auditorium Study Committee, said if they move forward with putting both phases of the project on the March 2015 ballot, the school district could see occupancy in June 2017 rather than September 2017.
The board agreed the difference of a few months isn’t significant enough to supersede its desire to allow for more time to consider the project proposal as a whole, as well as a variety of variables that will affect the project’s cost, before asking voters for their support.
School Board member John Laferriere expressed concern that the cost is rising.
“I want to be equipped to understand what impact there will be if interest rates were to rise to 4.5 percent or even 5 percent. It would make sense to have our financial advisor come in and discuss this with us,” he said. “Part of the risk in this whole project is the cost of money. What happens if we get stuck and there’s no tolerance for buying money at a certain rate?”
And member Steve Young said the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District in Londonderry could impact funds available for construction of the auditorium.
“This TIF District allows the Town Council to redirect funds to that infrastructure or any project in that geographical area,” he said.
Member Nancy Hendricks asked DeFrancesco if his committee had looked into securing grants to help subsidize the project’s costs.
DeFrancesco said the committee plans to fund raise and already has what he termed significant donors interested in helping to fund the auditorium.
“We need to start this yesterday,” said De-Francesco, who is eager to move forward with fundraising for the project. “In my opinion, we have the moment, we have the people who want to be on board; let’s let them be on board.”
There was an outpouring of support from members of the public who attended the meeting to speak out on the proposal – parents, a former music teacher, even students.
The sole earner for a family of five children, Erika Fleming of Fieldstone Drive said she would be willing to bear the tax burden for this auditorium, even though her son will graduate from the school district before having an opportunity to utilize the new facility, because it would benefit the community so greatly.
“We chose to live in Londonderry even with the higher property tax because of the school system,” she said, adding that her son has “flourished” under the district’s music program.
“We have such a superior drama and music department. It’s embarrassing that we have to go to Derry for performances,” she said.
Student Council liaison to the board Sophia Mirageas, who has been in band since middle school, thinks construction of the auditorium would serve all students, and even the community at large.
In addition to the variety of school groups that would utilize the space, the district could rent the facility, which would be good for the local economy, Mirageas said.
DeFrancesco pointed out the auditorium will also offer university-bound students an opportunity to get comfortable with lecture-hall style classes.
The stand-alone auditorium would be located near the high school’s cafeteria in an area used for parking and deliveries.
The proposal includes a 40-foot by 40-foot stage with 25-foot wings and a 40-foot proscenium. The orchestra pit would sit in front of the stage, lower by about six feet.
The lobby would be approximately 2,000 square feet.
The Auditorium Committee’s complete proposal is posted on the School District’s website under “Quick Links.”