School district patrons celebrate completion of $6.3 million Vermillion High School project

School district patrons celebrate completion of $6.3 million Vermillion High School project Dr. Robert Mayer, superintendent of the Vermillion School District, greets citizens in The Great Hall of the high school's new performing arts center Sunday. by David Lias People literally traveled through time Sunday as they toured the recently completed expansions to Vermillion High School.

A small group led by Vermillion School Board President Tom Craig walked down tiled corridors that have changed little since the school was constructed in 1965.

Then they stepped into the future � and entered the school's expanded library facilities. Vermillion High School students today study in a part of the school that once housed a lunch room.

A new commons and kitchen helped free up the needed space for a larger computer lab and bigger library.

Tour groups stepped back in time once more, walking down familiar hallways.

As good as new

The school's visitors were ushered into the school's main gymnasium � another progressive move � and then viewed its new auxiliary gymnasium and wrestling and gymnastics training facilities.

The main gymnasium may be nearly 40 years old, but it looks just as new as the other additions to the school, thanks to a new coat of paint donated by Jones' Food Center and Ace Hardware.

The gym's floor gleams. As Craig explained, it seemed only appropriate to strip, repaint and reseal the floor so that it, too, looks brand new.

Craig found himself rushing to show off all of the school's improvements. He hurried, in part, because he wanted patrons of the Vermillion School District to know how their money has been spent in the past two years.

The Great Hall

He also had a deadline to meet � he and Superintendent Robert Mayer had to be on the stage of the school's new 720-seat performing arts center by 2:30 p.m. to speak to people about the importance of the work that has been accomplished.

Visitors snuggled in the plush, upholstered seats of the auditorium � dubbed The Great Hall by VHS Instrumental Director John Alpers � to joyfully take in the esthetic quality and superior acoustics of the facility.

The auditorium features a large stage, with walls and ceiling designed to spread sound throughout its interior. Large rectangular acoustical tiles on the walls near the stage appear to be works of art, thanks to backlighting.

Student musicians and actors may now take advantage of a state of the art sound and lighting system.

On the stage sits an item that the school never has had in its history � a grand

piano. The instrument was purchased with donations from Hy-Vee of Vermillion, Marge Rawlins and the Vermillion Music Boosters.

Below the stage, out of sight of the audience, is a large orchestra pit.

After Alpers playfully demonstrated the ability to dim and brighten the auditorium's lights with a simple turn of a knob in the control room, Mayer began the rather daunting task of explaining the school's transformation.

Overwhelming support

The school's 50,000 square foot improvement project was made possible after voters gave a 70 percent approval to a $3.5 million bond issue in April 1999.

Capital outlay certificates were issued to pay the remainder of the project's $6.3 million cost.

"The school board had for several years been interested in providing a fine arts facility in the school district, but for a variety of reasons they had not been able to bring that vision to completion," Mayer said.

Four years ago the school board created a facilities task force which evaluated all of the school district's facilities.

"In the spring of 1998, they recommended the school board pursue a facility addition similar to what we celebrate today," Mayer said.

He heaped praise on members of the task force, and on DLR Group, the architectural firm that designed the new additions to the school building.

He lauded a wide range of individuals � from the business manager and school administrators, to teachers and custodians, who were involved in keeping the high school operating normally throughout the construction period.

Mayer saved his most sincere expression of appreciation for the citizens of the school district.

"A public vote was held in April (1999), and about 70 percent of those who cast votes approved this project, for which we are very grateful," he said.

Construction of the project began in March 2000. The work isn't quite complete yet, Mayer said, but by the end of the month, a few minor items should be finished.

"I take this opportunity to applaud the school board on its vision to bring this project to a reality," he said. "It has been four years in the making, and they have stayed focused throughout the entire project.

"Anything of this magnitude always has it pitfalls, and we certainly have had ours, but they remained focused," Mayer said, "and made common sense decisions because they understood all the way through that thousands of children and their parents will be served by this facility addition."

A new day

Vermillion High School students no longer have to study in a library that's too small, or dine in a crowded commons, Mayer said.

Student athletes no longer will have to arrive at the school at 6 a.m., or stay for long periods after class to practice because of a lack of facilities.

Perhaps the most dramatic improvement to the school facility, however, is the new performing arts center, Mayer said.

No longer will plays and musicals have to be performed on the stage of the Wayne Knutson Theatre on the USD campus, he said. No longer will the school gymnasium, with its poor acoustics and seating, be the site of school concerts.

"A new day has dawned on the Vermillion High School fines arts program," Mayer said. "It is with great pride that I say to those of you who participate in the performing arts, and those of you who come to enjoy, this house is yours."

Diligence praised

Vermillion School Board President Tom Craig praised not only his fellow board members, but their spouses for the support they provided during the four-year process of planning and construction.

"With a project of this magnitude," he said, "there will always be unforeseen problems and decisions that have to made after the original blueprints have been drawn up and the work has started.

"I can say, with pride, that in every instance, the members of the school board kept in mind that the important thing was maintaining the integrity of the project," Craig said, "but at the same time they tried as hard as they could to be frugal with your money. For that, I'm grateful."

Craig, like Mayer, also cast a wide net of thanks, expressing appreciation to a host of people, ranging from task force members, to staff and students who tolerated inconveniences caused by the construction.

All of it was made possible, he noted, because nearly seven out of 10 people voted in favor of the bond issue to fund the project.

Craig said after the vote, he was asked if he was surprised that such a high percentage of people supported the bond issue.

"I remarked at the time that, no, I wasn't," he said. "It's always been my observation that the community has been very progressive when it comes to education and to the welfare of our students.

"This is your facility, and it's your day to celebrate with us the realization of your vision," Craig said.

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