School administrators unveil plans for new performing arts center at Carthage High School

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An artists rendering of the front of the proposed Carthage Performing Arts Center.

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Since the new Carthage High School was built in 2007, students, faculty and staff have pushed for a new performing arts center to replace the auditorium at the old high school and current Sixth Grade Center at 714 S. Main St.

A performing arts center has been a part of the plan for the high school campus since planning started for it about 15 years ago.

With the rapid increase in the number of students in the Carthage school district and with age, the older 800-seat R-9 Auditorium has become too small and outdated for high school-level performances.

A new performing arts center on the south River Street campus was one of the priorities in the Carthage 2020 master plan created in 2010 for the future of the district and it was one of the few major priorities left incomplete when that master plan was reconsidered by the district and the public a decade later.

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On Monday night, the dream took a big step toward reality when Superintendent Mark Baker showed off the first drawings and initial floor plan for a new performing arts center that, if approved by voters, could finally become a reality in 2024..

“We’ve talked about this for years, we’ve talked about it at Carthage 2020 in 2010, Carthage 2020 and beyond in 2019, it’s something that at some point we need to commit to,” Baker said. “If the board wants to put this on the April ballot, you’ll have to approve the ballot language in January. Basically we have two more months for this information to get out. It’s a public document so we’ll share it. In December I’ll bring back more information and renderings for you, potential ballot language and kind of discuss how much money we have.”

New PAC

Baker presented two options for a 1,250-seat auditorium to be built between Carthage High School and the new Tigers Activities Center on the campus at 2600 River St.

The main difference between the two options was esthetics.

“No matter what version of the front of the building we choose we made certain from the lobby heading toward the classroom is the same,” Baker said in an interview on Tuesday. “The big difference is basically the front of the building, do we want the traditional symmetrical lines or go to a more curved approach and right now most people are saying option two which is the curved approach.”

Baker said initial drawings call for classroom space for vocal music, drama and instrumental music classes behind the auditorium.

The drawings show the choir and vocal music programs on the north side of the building closer to the existing high school, the drama classes in the middle and band and instrumental music class space on the south side closer to the Activities Center and the football stadium where they would practice.

Baker said administrators and the architect have been working with the teachers in those programs to determine how to set up their classrooms and what the center needs.

“We’ve been working with our staff and our architects to try to determine what do we actually need, then what do we want,” Baker said. “We have to remember the primary goal of this facility is to instruct students, it is not to bring in a Broadway show. This is for instruction, academics.  Now obviously we’re going to build it to where we can bring in plays but his is for our students first and the community will be able to use it obviously.”

Cost and taxes

Baker said the district plans announced two years ago when voters approved the expansion of the Carthage Technical Center was to hold a campaign to raise $5 million in donations from the community then go to the voters and ask for a tax increase that would raise an additional $10 million to $14 million, but things have changed.

Baker said it appears now that the district will have the capacity under state law to raise $18 million by extending the district’s existing debt service property tax levy without increasing it.

That means the private fundraising campaign will still be held, but it won’t have to raise $5 million as previously anticipated.

The district has already received a pledge from the family of Pat and Carolyn Phelps for $750,000 for the center, but it hasn’t actively been seeking funds since that donation was announced.

“We want to raise as much as we can, but it’s not as critical as it was two years ago,” Baker said. “The goal is to use fundraising money to go beyond what our regular budget and the money available from the bonds will buy because it’s still a projection, the cost of the building. We’re still reviewing what the teachers wanted compared to what they need compared to the overall price. We will start the fundraising process within the next month or two once we get better renderings so people can actually see the plans and they can visualize this is what it’s going to look like.”

Discussions

Baker told the board one goal will be to free up more space in the current high school by moving the band, choir and drama programs to a new building.

“This is the part that frustrates me but shows how much need we have,” Baker said. “We promoted this building (the South Tech Center expansion) saying we’re going to help our high school,. We were going to take five or six classes out of the high school, bring them to the Tech Center to open spots in the high school.

“We have no extra rooms in the high school already. In six months we’ve filled every room we moved over here, so yes, this is still needed. What will happen if this passes, we will remodel all the three areas that they’re using right now, drama, instrumental and vocal into extra classrooms.”

Board members asked Baker if some of the millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money could be used to build the performing arts center.

He said it was possible, but he wanted to use those funds for other priorities.

When asked what other facility needs the district had, Baker said he wants to add on to the district’s Early Childhood Center on Fairview Avenue.

“We need to support early childhood literacy,” he said. “We’ve added three classes at Pleasant Valley, we need more classes at our Early Childhood Center. And at some point we have to address the baseball field. Those are the three major projects that we see coming up.”

Baker said the city is creating a parks master plan that uses the existing Carl Lewton Stadium in Municipal Park for other purposes.

The Carthage Tigers baseball team is the only current user of the 80-plus year old stadium and Baker said the district has had plans to build a baseball field on the northeast corner of the High School campus.

Board Member Ryan Collier suggested adding a new baseball field plan to the performing arts center bond issue, but Baker said he didn’t think that was a good idea.

“We truly know that it’s not in good shape,” Baker said. “There’s nothing ADA compliant about it. If we tie them together we just need to make certain we promote it correctly. I just don’t want to take away from a performing arts center.”

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