After five months of delays, the York Community Auditorium is now scheduled to be completed Nov. 13 — hopefully in time for holiday season concerts. The completion also brings to the forefront plans for use of the 750-seat facility for outside events like concerts and theater performances.
The new completion date has held through two rounds of deadlines with contractor Hutter Construction, “and that’s comforting,” said Mike Whitman, Auditorium Building Committee chairman. The seats are in the building but will be the last thing installed. All acoustical work is completed, the terrazzo stairs are going in, the multipurpose room floor will soon be laid.
Because of the delay in opening, Hutter is paying all costs of the project’s clerk of the works and the school’s owner’s representative. Additional discussions regarding the final weeks’ work were expected to take place last week, said Zak Harding, director of facilities.
“We want to complete it. They want to complete it. I’m sure we can come to an agreement,” said Whitman. At least, he said, the project is coming in on budget; voters approved $10.4 million, and no more money will be spent.
With the end of the building project in sight, attention is turning to management of the facility once it is opened. The School Committee recently adopted a facilities use policy that lays out parameters for when, how and under what circumstances the auditorium can be used by the schools, community and outside organizations. Priority will first be given to York High School activities, followed by broader school district programs. After that, first dibs go to York-specific organizations, municipal groups and activities; finally, depending on availability, the auditorium can be rented by outside entities.
Outside rentals has been a source of concern for York Finance Director Wendy Anderson. Because the auditorium was built using tax-exempt bonds, the amount of money the school district can take in on rentals is governed by Securities and Exchange Commission and Internal Revenue Service regulations, she said. She said attorneys for the school and the town provided “guidelines about business use of a government facility” — business in this case meaning any outside, paying group. Based on those guidelines, she said she is comfortable saying that the school could earn “close to $20,000 a year and not compromise the threshold” set up under federal regulations.
Specifically, the IRS has exceptions that will allow the school to make money on short-term leases. “And there aren’t too many things that are going to come up that aren’t going to fit into those exceptions.” Still, there has to be strict accounting annually, she said, and she wants to be involved in discussions about any contract where questions arise.
Harding and Susan Goodwin, assistant to the superintendent, will be in charge of all aspects involved with outside contracts for auditorium use and will maintain the calendar for all use of the space, according to the committee’s policy. “We don’t want that function in the high school building; we want that in the central office. And I want the town to have full access to the money side, which also makes central office a better place,” said Dick Bachelder, a School Committee member and auditorium policy use subcommittee chairman.
Outside entities would pay a still-to-be-determined rental fee; provide $1 million in liability insurance, which Bachelder said can be purchased by the day for a reasonable amount of money; and pay for ushers and, when necessary, police.
A house manager at the school will schedule any staffing needs at the auditorium itself such as sound and lighting technicians, and will also have authority to approve installation of scenery, or the moving of pianos, equipment and furniture. Who that person is, how many hours he or she works, and how that person is paid is still to be determined, said Bachelder.
“The School Committee is discussing whether or not next year’s budget proposal will include funding for this position,” he said. “It could be a line item or it could be a stipend.”
Building Committee co-chair Holly Sargent said she and several other donors have raised a small amount of private money that they would “like to make as a restricted, one-time gift to the school” to pay for a house manager for the remainder of this current school year. Bachelder said the time is now right to begin to have discussions with the donors about this funding.
Sargent is also heading up a separate effort — a nonprofit organization, as yet unnamed, that will search out appropriate musical, cultural and educational groups to bring to York and then actually rent the space from the school for their performances. She sees the nonprofit as “a small version of Portland Ovations,” a Portland nonprofit performing arts organization that brings national-caliber artists to the state and secures a venue for them to perform. While Sargent is not looking at national acts per se, she thinks about attracting groups like the Maine-based DaPonte String Quartet or regional children’s theater.
“There’s an interest here in making York a real magnet regarding music,” she said, mentioning the musical connections of people such as York’s Joyce Andersen and Harvey Reid or former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi. “I think the auditorium could be an anchor for a lot of programs.”
Because the organization will be a nonprofit, any money left over at the end of its fiscal year would be given to local charities, she said. She sees the inclusion of programs at the auditorium as good for the entire economy of York, as it will bring in people who will want to go the restaurants or shop.
Bachelder said it’s time to begin to discuss these matters because it’s finally looking like the end of the project is near. Building and School Committee members were profuse in their thanks to the community for funding the project. Whitman said he’s hopeful the gym doors can be opened onto the lobby on Election Day, Nov. 7, so taxpayers can get a peek at the place.
“Even walking into the lobby, it just takes your breath away,” he said.
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