Legend, Speedway give to Springfield school auditorium project

Springfield City School District’s campaign to raise $1 million for the renovation of the former South High auditorium has received two big donations just in time for Giving Tuesday.

Grammy and Oscar-winning singer John Legend, a graduate of the district, will give $500,000 through his Show Me Campaign to renovate the 700-seat auditorium at the Springfield Center for Innovation: The Dome.

Enon-based Speedway will give $100,000 for the project.

The district will name the renovated auditorium the John Legend Theater and the stage will be the Speedway Stage.

Legend wants to see more Springfield students get opportunities to experience the performing arts, he said in an exclusive interview with the Springfield News-Sun on Monday.

“I went to Springfield North and we had an auditorium that I personally used a lot, whether it was in talent shows, theater productions, show choir or school choir,” he said. “The auditorium was really important to me and really central to my experience at school.”

The former South High School, built in 1911, reopened as a hub for science, technology, engineering and math education and college and career readiness in August.

It’s now home to the Greater Springfield CareerConnectED Center where students from four districts can build skills by exploring creative arts, digital media, computer science, welding and more. It also houses the Global Impact STEM Academy and labs are under construction for several Clark State Community College degree programs.

Much of the building renovation was funded by an $11.3 million Ohio Straight-A grant awarded in 2014.

Legend was a partner in the grant application, but that money cannot be used on the auditorium. Springfield High School doesn’t have a true theater either and currently hosts productions in its cafetorium.

“I wanted to make sure the kids in Springfield had access to that kind of facility so that they can express themselves creatively,” he said. “Part of developing young people into great adults and great members of society is having a really well-rounded education.”

The leadership, communication and teamwork skills developed through the arts help students in other classes and in any career they choose, Legend said.

“It also gives kids that excitement that you need to wake up every morning and go to school and be thrilled about the idea of learning,” he said.

To raise the money, Legend partnered with Omaze.com on a global social media fundraising campaign. Fans from 60 countries donated and were entered into a raffle for various prizes.

“The grand prize was me singing at someone’s wedding so that was pretty cool,” he said.

The winning couple, Allen White and Cindy Glass, got married in Raleigh, N.C., this fall. They donated $500 to Legend’s Show Me Campaign.

“They knew what we were raising money for and they were happy to donate,” Legend said.

Speedway President Tony Kenney said in a statement the corporation was pleased to join with Legend and Springfield schools to renovate the auditorium.

“At Speedway, we strive to make a positive difference within the communities in which we are privileged to operate,” Kenney said.

The donations are being announced in conjunction with Giving Tuesday, a nationally recognized day for giving back that follows the shopping frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The gifts will be made through the the district’s Auditorium Fund at the Springfield Foundation.

Springfield City School District has pledged to match all corporate and individual donations up to $1 million. The total renovation cost is expected to be about $2 million.

Once completed, the theater will host a wide range of student productions and events for local organizations that will benefit everyone in the community, Springfield Board of Education President Ed Leventhal said.

“Without question, Springfield City Schools are extremely excited, extremely gratified by the strong support and partnership with John Legend and Speedway,” Leventhal said. “We think it is going to provide not only outstanding opportunities for Springfield City students, but for the entire community.”

The theater’s smaller size may prove more affordable and more useful to community theater and other organizations looking for a place to practice and perform, he said.

Anyone wishing to donate to the Auditorium Fund can contact the Springfield Foundation at 937-324-8773 or springfieldfoundation.org.

Legend plans to come home for a performance at the auditorium once work is complete.

“We don’t have any specific plans, but we will do it for sure,” he said.

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