School board to match auditorium funds

Grammy and Oscar-winning singer John Legend has already pledged to raise $500,000 towards the project and the district hopes to raise an additional $500,000 from other donors for a total fund of $2 million after the district’s match.

The school board has the money available in its permanent improvement fund from the sale of properties over the past decade, President Ed Leventhal said. It voted Thursday evening to authorize the matching funds.

The permanent improvement fund had a $2.5 million balance last year, according to the district’s annual financial report.

Previous boards kept the money with an eye towards someday building an auditorium at the new Springfield High School, Leventhal said, but costs have been prohibitive.

The estimated cost to renovate South High’s auditorium and create a 700-seat theater is about $2 million, according to Kim Fish, communications consultant for the district and coordinator for the $11.3 million Straight A grant awarded to Springfield and a consortium of districts last year.

The grant includes $9 million in capital funds to renovate the 103-year old building so it can house the Global Impact STEM Academy and the newly created Greater Springfield Career ConnectED Center next year, but does not cover non-academic spaces like the auditorium.

Previous estimates to build an auditorium at Springfield High School put the cost at more than $5 million.

The board thinks South’s auditorium is the best solution, Leventhal said, because Legend has already promised a large donation, the cost is less than building new, and the location within the shared ConnectED Center will allow for the space to be used by more than just Springfield High students.

“The intent of the board is to open this up, not only to school use… but also to the community,” Springfield Superintendent David Estrop said.

Legend has already pulled donations from people in 48 different countries through his online campaign on Omaze.com.

Fans who donate $10 or more to Legend’s Show Me Campaign on the site are entered for a chance to win a private concert. The more money donated, the more entries for the concert are awarded.

Larger donations from $25 to $25,000 are rewarded with various levels of additional prizes, including T-shirts, autographed song sheets and concert tickets.

Legend is planning to extend that contest now that the board has pledged the matching funds, Fish said, and is expected to launch several online videos in the coming weeks to promote it. One of those videos may feature Springfield students.

The district is also planning to set up an endowment fund through the Springfield Foundation that will help support the auditorium’s upkeep in the future.

“We want to avoid strangling a future school board with costs,” Leventhal said.

The district will need to bid and hire a design firm before any work can begin on the auditorium, Fish said. The tentative timeline puts completion in the summer of 2016 at the earliest.

Those wishing to donate through Legend’s campaign can visit www.omaze.com/legend. Anyone wishing to donate directly to the school district can specify their donation is for the auditorium. Contact the district office at 937-505-2800.

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