It was showtime Thursday at Lewis Central High School, as its new performing arts center was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the main stage.
The center – part of an addition built in the southwestern part of the school – includes a 33,775 square foot auditorium that seats 1,126 people, has a professional-height loft and is expected to be equipped with the latest theater equipment, although stage lights, curtains and some sound equipment have yet to arrive.
“It’s phenomenal!” Superintendent Brent Hoesing said at the ceremony.
“It shows how much the school supports you and your efforts,” Hoesing told students at the rally, including members of the Lewis Central High School marching band.
“Don’t take this for granted,” he added. “I can’t imagine how you’re going to feel when you’re here and there are 1,100 people there.”
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The long-awaited occasion was the culmination of years of planning, said Board of Education Chair Dorene Scheffel. She remembers attending a meeting at Titan Hill Middle School—which was then the middle school—about a petition to hold a bond election for the construction of a new high school.
“At that time, the amount budgeted did not allow for the construction of an auditorium at the same time as the high school,” she said.
But the designers left room for it, she says.
The high school opened in 2002, but students have continued to use the auditorium of the old high school, now the middle school, until now.
“It would have been wonderful for our students if we could have done it sooner, but we might not have gotten that,” Scheffel said, referring to the place in the spotlight. “I can’t wait to see how our students will shine in their performances here this year and in the future.”
Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh praised the project.
“Great things are happening on this campus,” Walsh said. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
Hoesing described taking her daughters to visit the auditorium this week.
“My daughter asked, ‘Am I going to sing here someday?’ I said yes.”
Hoesing said he hoped the installation would inspire students.
“I hope it inspires even people who have never picked up an instrument or come on stage and played,” he said. “I know not everyone who has a special talent is (on stage), so I hope they take advantage of this opportunity.”
The LCHS marching band closed the ceremony with a bang by playing the school’s fight song – the first performance in the new venue.
The facility is by far the largest auditorium in Council Bluffs.
By comparison, the main theater at the Arts Center at Iowa Western Community College seats 655, Abraham Lincoln High School Auditorium seats 500, Thomas Jefferson High School Auditorium seats 450, and Polina & Bob Schlott Hoff Family Performing Arts Center. The arts and culture center can accommodate 280 people. The auditorium at Lewis Central Middle School seats approximately 700 people.
And size isn’t the venue’s only strength, noted Alan Strait, drama coach at LCHS. The fly system and lights can be lowered for easier access and the technology is up to date.
“It’s all LED lighting, so kids will be able to see the technology like they’ll see it in college or anywhere else,” he said. “The orchestra can be in a pit rather than in the audience.”
The acoustic panels can also be raised, lowered and rotated at will, said Kevin Palu, one of the school’s vocal music directors.
LCHS director Joe Vinchattle said: “I think it will provide great opportunities for our children. It really is a state of the art facility I think. Our high school students will have work experience.
School board member Amie Adkins, who has volunteered extensively with the theater department and LCHS choir, was thrilled with the auditorium and how open it was.
“This district has waited 25 years for (this) facility, and I think it’s beyond any expectation we’ve ever had,” she said.
Students deserve this exceptional space, Adkins said.
“Fine art kids, when they get into putting on a show, put their hearts into it,” she said. “This step will allow them to shine like the stars they are.”
Behind the scenes there is a green room, make-up rooms and dressing rooms, restrooms and a storage room for sets, costumes, a grand piano, musical instruments and uniforms,
The addition to the performing arts center also contains a black box theater that seats 85 to 100 spectators, Strait said.
“It gives us a chance to do big productions and also small productions where (the focus) is more on acting,” he said.
The addition — which includes the performing arts center and an additional 11,775 square feet of space for vocational technical education — cost about $15.75 million and was funded by a surety from the company’s revenues. Secure an Advanced Vision for Education sales tax of 1 cent. The design work was carried out by BVH Architecture and the contractor was Ronco Construction.