Auditorium Committee Chairman Tony DeFrancesco told the Planning Board last week that the facility would be more than a school building – it was to be a community building as well.
The committee was commissioned by the Londonderry School Board in October 2013, he told the board at its Wednesday, June 11 meeting. “The charge of the committee was to investigate the possibility of putting an auditorium on the high school campus,” he said. “We were asked to identify if there is a need, where would the building go, what size would be appropriate and the elephant in the room, how much would it cost.”
DeFrancesco said the committee’s plan is to have a final report ready for the school board at its Aug. 26 meeting.
“Once the report is presented, it’s important to note that it’s the school board that at that time will make the decision to move forward or not,” he explained. “There is currently no building being built.”
He noted that the committee is made up of town employees, school employees, members of service clubs as well as school staff.
“The committee so far sees that there is a need, but it needs to be a community auditorium, not just a school auditorium,” he said. “That is an important distinction to make because there are a lot of auditoriums on school properties that are not community auditoriums. Our goal is to work towards a report that provides an auditorium that is reasonably priced and properly sized, that works for the school, taxpayers and the entire community of Londonderry.”
DeFrancesco added that an auditorium is included in the Master Plan and the Town Manager is “tasked with doing something with it.” Town Manager Kevin Smith is a member of the auditorium committee.
DeFrancesco said he met with every department head as well as the fire inspector, the state fire marshal, the town manager and staff from the state Department of Transportation, which has given its approval to the proposed location, a parking area adjacent to the high school cafeteria and lower than the high school access road.
Board Chairman Art Rugg said that even though an auditorium committee had been set up in 2006, “this is the greatest amount of progress I think any of us has seen. It creates a good community discussion.”
DeFrancesco noted that the school board had created the committee, and he hesitated to answer questions that had not been made known to the school board. “It’s a protocol issue,” he said.
Board member Chris Davies asked what other sites had been looked at and DeFrancesco said one was attaching it to the LHS gym, and another was in one of the playing fields in front of the high school.
DeFrancesco said some areas owned by the town were potential sites, but the school district wanted to be able to use it during school hours, so being on school property was important. He noted he had met with school staff and asked how each department would use the auditorium. “They came up with excellent suggestions,” he said.
DeFrancesco said the police and fire departments could use the facility for training, and local dance studios and karate classes could use it for recitals and demonstrations.
While it was originally proposed to seat 950, the auditorium was reduced to 800 seats, given the declining school population.
Board member Rick Brideau asked about parking and DeFrancesco said there is enough parking, as the building would be scheduled to avoid conflicts with sporting events at the gym.
Brideau asked about maintenance and DeFrancesco said school district Facilities Director Chuck Zappala was a member of the committee and said there would not be a need for extra staff to take care of the auditorium.
DeFrancesco said currently the custodial staff has to set up chairs in the gym and cover the floor and set up a stage for events. Because the auditorium would already have seats and a stage, that would save time and money.
Board member Mary Wing Soares asked if the space between the cafeteria and the new building would have a cover to protect students and their musical instruments in inclement weather. DeFrancesco said the committee was trying to work out that detail with the state fire marshal.
Board member Laura El-Azem asked about the cost, and DeFrancesco said that would be presented to the school board Aug. 26.
Several members said the building should be constructed in its entirety, rather than coming back later to build additions.