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'Good performing arts center really puts the whole concept together'

Zoe Greszler • Jan 10, 2018 at 9:50 AM

WILLARD — With any luck (and good votes), Willard City Schools may have its own performing arts center in the next few years. 

At the school board meeting Monday, Superintendent Jeff Ritz asked permission to look into the idea of the facility. It would replace the auditoria being used for concerts and plays. About 20 community members, teachers and student were in attendance, showing their support.

In fact a non-profit organization — Willard PAC Project, has been formed with the aim of raising funds to build and maintain the facility. Plans include allowing the public to use the performing arts center (PAC). 

Ritz said the school recently held a concert in the auditoria where about 20 people approached him and expressed their desire for a better place to perform. He said the district “needs, and for lack of a better term, deserves” a PAC.

“The cafeteria seemed small and the acoustics were very poor,” Ritz said. “And we’re outgrowing it.

“It takes a well-rounded student (to succeed). That's something Willard is very good at … having students involved in the arts and we have more students involved in arts than anything. Our students love the arts.”

Ritz said there has been talk of looking into a PAC for about two years, noting it was “time we move forward with action.” He requested allowing treasurer Cynthia Shoup to begin crunching numbers for the project cost. 

These are just the very beginning stages and the issue could go to the voters in the future.

Crunching numbers

If approved, Ritz would ask the board to approve an earned income tax for funding the facility.

“This is an income tax, so retirement income and property taxes are not effected. What also will help is next summer a bond issue is coming off (the ballot) and we will not renew that,” the superintendent said. “The emergency operating tax will come up, but if this passes, I don't think we'll have to review that either. That might change next year, of course. It will be up to the board, but I don’t think we would need it.” 

The proposed tax would generate about $1.9 million, mostly for the PAC.

“This (proposed tax) will generate enough funds to build a PAC — it won’t be the Taj Mahal of PACs, but it will be a very nice, functional PAC,” Rtiz said, adding donations could be used for enhancements and specific requests.

Johanna Beebe, president of the Willard PAC Project, said the group plans to raise between $1 and $1.5 million in donations.

“That's not unreasonable to expect,” she said.

If the new income tax were passed, Ritz said it would take two to three years “to design and do all the leg work.” He and Shoup predicted it would take 18 months to receive all the money. The school isn’t able to put a project to bid until all of the money is saved. 

The proposed PAC site is where the district bus garage is, which would provide the necessary amount of parking. The board estimated each parking spot costs $1,500 to create.

Community support

At least five people in attendance expressed the need for a PAC and their support of the project.

“I have never l felt such gasoline behind a project I've been on,” band director Christian Watson told the board. “Everyone involved is doing so much work. I worked at Shelby City Schools and they had a PAC built into the school and it was indispensable. We have three performing arts (unlike Shelby’s two) and ours are for students in grades fifth through 12.”

Senior Levi Hill is one of those students. He has been in choir for four years, including honors choir, and said a PAC would make a marked difference in the performance and study of the arts.

“Part of music is how everything comes together,” Hill said. “So having a good performing arts center really puts the whole concept together. It’s the difference between how a song sounds and how a song feels. I think having a good place for the community to feel the music is just something I think would be irreplaceable.”

Newly-elected board president Chris Rothhaar said he was impressed by the amount of support the project has.

“I love the passion everybody is coming out with and that even the kids are coming out,” he said. “That's great. I love that the district keeps wanting to move forward with new things.”

The board will meet at 9 a.m. Jan. 22 in a special meeting to discuss the subject further and vote. 

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