With the March election only a couple of months away, the Community Auditorium subcommittee has been working to inform voters of its findings and what the building would mean for Londonderry.
“There has been some confusion on what’s going on and how it’s going on. People need to understand this is a School Board initiative,” said Subcommittee Chairman Tony DeFrancesco, noting the School Board voted 5-0 to send the auditorium design and architectural costs to the voters as a warrant article. “The whole idea is to try to get the correct information to the voters so they can make an informed decision.”
While the proposed auditorium has both received positive feedback and raised concerns about the impact the $8.9 million, 800-seat facility would have on the Town’s tax rate, DeFrancesco notes there is a documented need for the auditorium.
The subcommittee was allocated $25,000 to hire an architect and investigate size, pricing and location for the facility after the New England Association of Schools and Colleges recommended construction of an auditorium as part of their evaluation of the District.
While the music and drama departments will undoubtedly utilize a community auditorium like the one proposed, DeFrancesco has gathered through his research with the subcommittee that a large portion of daily use will be curriculum based, with students to benefit from the experience of larger classes in a lecture hall setting.
“After school and at night it has the potential to be used as much or as little as the community wants to use it,” he said, noting the Board will have to form a separate subcommittee to determine how it wants to approach renting out the facility and whether or not associated revenues would cover the facility’s operating costs. “I’m feeling like our job until voting day is to get the information in the report to voters.”
Although the capacity of the auditorium would accommodate much larger classes than the high school can, School Board member John Laferriere said he sees the space being used more for events, guest speakers, and perhaps a class for older students who are interested in an introduction to the lecture-hall experience to prepare for college.
“Class sizes are dictated by the State and we always ride under them. We won’t change them,” Laferriere said. “It’s an exposure thing. Where warranted, the auditorium would facilitate a larger group. But consolidating classes into a lecture hall is way outside the possibilities. I wouldn’t support that.”
If the voters approve spending $500,000 for architecture and engineering services, the School Board would form a Building Committee and move a warrant article to the March 2016 election for the bond amount of the project.
DeFrancesco noted it was the Board’s decision to split the project into two phases that require two separate votes.
The Board agreed when moving the first phase of the project to a warrant article for March that it needed time to consider the project proposal as a whole, as well as variables that would affect the project’s costs. DeFrancesco said a second vote gives the Board the option of signing “a contract not to exceed” a set amount for construction of the auditorium.
When asked about donations for the project, DeFrancesco said the subcommittee has been informed it’s not the proper time to fund raise; but once a building committee is formed, he would expect fundraising will occur.
“The costs will be defrayed. But how much is out there is anyone’s guess,” he said. “If a major corporation wants to come in and donate $1 million, it would impact the cost of the project for the taxpayer. There have been other things like that that have happened in the past.”
Asked what the biggest misconception he has heard about the auditorium is, DeFrancesco said it’s confusion related to the facility’s inability to host graduation.
“I keep hearing the fact that graduation won’t occur there, so why spend so much money when we can’t even use it for graduation? The fact is, with about 4,000 participants in graduation, the Verizon Wireless Center (in Manchester) is a better venue. I don’t think Londonderry is in position, and as a taxpayer I wouldn’t support building a facility that seats 4,000 people for one event each year,” he said.
A concern raised by one taxpayer at a previous School Board meeting was what other improvements in the District are being delayed to build the auditorium – and whether there is a better investment to make at this time.
School District officials said the main improvement they are putting off is construction of a new School District office.
“It has been pushed way out. It’s not even a point of discussion right now,” Superintendent Nate Greenberg said.
Business Administrator Peter Curro said the SAU building will have to be addressed in the near future, with a decision as to whether the District should put money into repairing the roof or build a new structure.
“It’s an old building and it has some HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) issues,” he said. “It’s been pushed a couple of years out, but at some point we’ll have to make that decision. It’s not falling down or cracking, it’s more or less the same stuff you get with any old building. It was built in 1980, so it’s not like we have a 35-year window here.”
Although there have been concerns with the proposed auditorium, DeFrancesco said the feedback the subcommittee has received at various community events, such as the Christmas pancake breakfasts at the elementary schools, has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Based on what we have heard from people, they have been happy to see us and to get information. I have had people tell me they were glad they could ask questions to me directly. Most people won’t go to a School Board meeting or write an email because it’s too intimidating,” he said. “The process has been the same for getting information out to the voters since I came into town in 1978 – it has always been photos and information booths.”
If the voters approve both the 2015 warrant for architecture and engineering and the bond for the project in March 2016, the Town could see occupancy of the new facility in September 2017.
The 28,800-square-foot, stand-alone auditorium would be located near the high school’s cafeteria in an area currently used for parking and deliveries.
The proposed design includes a 2,000-square-foot lobby, 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.
To view the auditorium committee’s complete report, visit the School District online at www.londonderry.org.