By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — With months to go before Clinton’s new middle school is complete, a newly formed community group is already thinking of ways to raise funds to add an auditorium at the school.
Nearly 15 people have joined forces to form the Clinton Fine Arts Association, an organization aimed at updating Clinton’s performing arts facilities in the same vein as the Restoring Royalty campaign updated the high school athletic facilities.
During a Clinton School District Facilities Task Force meeting Monday night, David Sivright spoke about the group’s goals and asked for some guidance from the task force members.
The group is getting designated as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and plans to contact the Peoria, Ill., consulting firm used by Restoring Royalty to map out a fund-raising plan for an auditorium at the middle school slated to open next year, which they envision also would be used by community groups such as the Clinton Symphony Orchestra.
“We’re interested in helping out to provide the best facilities we can for this district,” Sivright said. “There are a lot of people in town who value the band program, the chorus program, the arts, the plays and we’re willing to try and help you do what Restoring Royalty did for athletics.”
Middle school band and orchestra students will have a dedicated space for practicing as will the vocal music and general music students. Students will likely perform in the middle school gymnasium, which the group agreed is not ideal for acoustics. The school also has a multi-purpose room connecting the gym and the music rooms that could be used for additional storage, practice and other activities.
Drama does not have a dedicated space in the new school and would need to use Clinton High School’s facilities, which also garnered some attention during Monday’s meeting.
Clinton School Board member Eric Gettes applauded the Clinton Fine Arts Association’s vision for the middle school auditorium, but questioned if an upgrade to Vernon Cook Theater and other fine arts spaces at CHS would better serve the community.
“I guess part of me wonders what those middle school kids who are in that state-of-the-art facility are going to feel like when they get to the high school and it’s supposed to be the ultimate place to perform and that is a major step down not only in where they perform, but where they practice,” Gettes said.
As presented with 600 seats, storage space, a green room and other amenities, the auditorium at the middle school would cost around $6 million. This money would need to come from somewhere other than the school district, as would any money for upgrades to CHS’s fine arts facilities in the coming years.
The $21 million new middle school is being paid for with the one-cent local option sales tax and uses all of the funding source until it sunsets in 2029. The auditorium was cut from the plans due to cost constraints.
Superintendent Deb Olson said the earliest the district would be able to go to the taxpayers with a bond referendum for facilities or to ask them to implement a physical plant and equipment levy would be 2017, the same year the last payments on the bonds for Jefferson and Eagle Heights elementary schools will be made.
Task Force and Clinton Fine Arts Association member Jack Pringle contended the district keep the future in mind when planning for new facilities and examine all avenues to bring the project to fruition.
“I’m kind of enthused about the fundraising. I know it’s not going to be easy, but I think if we have in mind what we want to do and we get the support from the facilities task force and from the school board, I think we can do it,” Pringle said. “We can see that vision, we can put it out there, we can show the community that we really want to do this for our kids and for our future.”
Olson asked Dave Briden with FRK Architects to return to the January meeting with ideas on what the middle school auditorium and CHS fine arts renovations would entail and cost.
“For all the things that are said of this community, there’s a rich tradition of supporting the arts,” Olson said. “I think we have to build on that tradition because we’re actually educating the whole child.”