WATERVILLE — A group of parents raising money to improve the Waterville Senior High School auditorium will kick off a campaign March 10 in a bid to raise $150,000 for 700 new seats for the theater.

The Save A Seat kickoff reception is part of an ongoing effort by the group to raise a total of $421,000 for renovations that would improve the 53-year-old Trask Auditorium for both performers and audiences. The group’s volunteer effort comes as the school has been unable to take on more debt to fund the project as part of a broader school renovation.

“The high school needs a good facility to be able to put on these productions,” said Scott Jones, a parent on the fundraising committee who has three students at the high school who work on the technical side of performances. “There is a really high quality of productions going on, and that is a testament to the students and faculty at the school.”

The group of six parents has worked about a year on the renovation project, contacting prospective alumni and donors and planning for needed improvements. Last summer, with a large gift from a donor who asked to remain anonymous, the group was able to install a new $231,000 lighting and sound system in the auditorium. The committee, working with school Superintendent Eric Haley, was able to secure the large donation, which paid for about half of the cost of the lighting and sound system. The project is in the red for $76,749, which the group is trying to raise.

Another donor who wants to remain unidentified will help to pay for new $15,000 stage curtains to be installed in the spring, and another donor has been approached to help fund a $15,000 stage renovation and extension project. The parent group wants to soundproof the auditorium at an additional cost of $10,000.

The Trask Auditorium — named after Stanford T. Trask, the school’s principal from 1966 to 1984 — is used for orchestra, band, jazz band, chorus, graduation activities, drama department performances and other events.

Jones says group members understand the importance of arts education, realize that school budgets are tight and are passionate about helping to bring the auditorium facilities in line with the high quality of performances the students and faculty offer.

“None of us are professional fundraisers,” Jones said. “We all have day jobs. It’s hard to do campaign work on a volunteer basis, but we said we’re glad to do it.”

The March 10 seat campaign kickoff event will include a reception with hors d’oeuvres in the school cafeteria at 6 p.m. followed by performances by the high school jazz band under the direction of Sue Barre and the Select Choir directed by Ciara Hargrove, as well as piano performances by students in grades 5 through 12. A string quartet will perform, and a scene from the one-act play “The Game’s Afoot,” written by Ken Ludwig and directed by Gayle Giguere, will be presented. Tri-M National Honor Music Society members will meet and greet guests at the event.

Admission is free, but as part of the seat campaign, people may “buy” auditorium seats for $250 each or five for $1,000 and may have their names engraved on plaques on the seats. Those who want to buy seats but are unable to attend may go to the website wshs.aos92.org/seat.

Those who do attend will see the improvements made to the auditorium so far, including the lighting and painting of the entire auditorium.

“It really is a chance to showcase the condition of the auditorium and the excellence of the student groups,” Jones said. “That’s really the story of the night.”

COSTLY RENOVATIONS

The high school over the last several years has undergone several phases of renovations that have included construction of a new school entrance and rotunda, classroom construction, new wood pellet boiler installation and oil burner replacement at a cost of millions of dollars.

Haley, the superintendent, and schools Finance Director Paula Pooler, said Monday that the school was not able to complete the final two phases of renovation, which would have included the auditorium and gymnasium, because the school system could not afford to take on more debt.

Knowing this, the parent group sprang into action.

Haley said auditorium projects at places such as Messalonskee and Lawrence high schools were done through tax appropriation, but Waterville can not afford such a project and school officials have vowed not to use taxpayer money for the auditorium project. He and Pooler said that, while there have always been booster groups to help fund specific sports, drama and other projects, the auditorium project represents the largest fundraising effort they have ever seen by a parent group.

“It’s an extraordinary effort on their part,” Haley said Monday.

Pooler added that the effort reflects the group’s dedication to the school system and programs.

“It’s absolutely phenomenal what they’re doing,” she said. “It’s amazing. We can’t say enough about it.”

Barre, the band director, also is a member of the renovation committee and has three children in school. She said the amount of time her fellow committee members have put into the effort to help improve the auditorium is humbling.

“It has been a huge, huge project and they have been wonderful every step of the way, so kudos to them,” she said.

Barre, who has been band director for students in grades 5 through 12 for eight years and before that was choral director two years, said she and her group hope to bring the level of quality in the auditorium up to that of other schools in the area. She said there is a lot of enthusiasm for the renovation project, and the committee has a lot of support from the school and community in its efforts.

“Any time we have asked for help around school, people have bent over backwards — secretaries printing labels, help on the website, creating a link, sending word out through newsletters — anything I have asked for help on has been offered with a smile,” Barre said. “This is a full village effort.”

AUDIENCE ENHANCEMENT

The stage extension, which will add about 6 feet on the front of the stage, will give performers a lot more room than they now have. There are so many students in the school orchestra, for instance, that they do not all fit comfortably on the stage.

Gayle Giguere, who has taught English at the school for 18 years and is the drama director there, said the auditorium improvements so far have made a big difference. With the former, old lighting system, people had to go up to the stage ceiling to change the lights and different-colored gels, and that took hours. With the new system, the lighting rack is lowered automatically.

“Now, it’s push-button,” Giguere said. “The whole rack of lights comes down to us. It’s really something. I’m pretty tickled.”

The old system also would short-out sometimes, she said.

“The system needed an overhaul,” she said. “The new system lifted the level of our performance substantially.”

The old black stage curtains have holes in them and pose a fire hazard and need to be replaced, Giguere said. Over the years, she has sewn them and patched the backs of them with duct tape, being careful to make sure the tape is not visible to the audience.

The auditorium itself is old and not of the quality one would see at Messalonskee or Lawrence, but the improvements being made are wonderful, according to Giguere, whose students will perform next weekend in the one-act play festival in Skowhegan.

“We’re doing such a fantastic job in an old structure,” she said.

Having new seats in the auditorium will mean audiences will be much more comfortable, she said.

Besides Jones and Barre, the renovation committee includes Tim Lecrone, Lisa Wheeler, Gail Carlson and Randa Veilleux.

Acting high school principal Brian Laramee said the auditorium seats have served their purpose over the years, but having new ones will greatly enhance the audience experience for the high-quality performances. He praised the parent group leading the renovation effort.

“It’s just a wonderful opportunity that we have,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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