April 13, 2023
• At the school committee meeting on April 4, 2023, students voice their thoughts on the subpar conditions at school auditoriums and how they are a detriment to the performing arts. Superintendent Dan Gutekanst shares plans to improve equipment.
reported by Yuxiao Yuan
At the School Committee meeting on April 4th, Needham Superintendent of Schools Dan Gutekanst responded to recent complaints about the poor condition of the school auditoriums in the district by presenting an update on the department’s plan for their improvements and a timeline. At the beginning of the meeting, students who engage in performing arts spoke about the safety and efficiency issues of the auditoriums, citing their own experiences.
“There’s not any software nor lighting board to control the lights,” one student testified.”This means my only source of control for the shows at NHS are a series of buttons which functionally act as a glorified light switch, that is located in the cramped wings of the stage. Lights themselves are an incredibly difficult place to reach safely and when broken, may take months to fix. I have the personal capability to fix each and every one of these lights. I do not have the resources or capabilities to do so safely.”
Another student backed up those claims. “We have never had a show without issues involving our performance spaces. Very rarely have there been mishaps or mistakes made by the crew itself, but there has been numerous dangerous issues involving our venues. To list a few: the curtain ripping during a show at Pollard, faulty microphone signals due to an ancient soundboard that isn’t made for the space it’s in, and leaking ceilings both at the High School and Pollard.”
Some students compared the district’s auditoriums to those of other school districts. “I am in awe of their large stage that is within their own school, large backstage, large house space for their tech, large prop closets, and so on.”
The district has engaged a light and sound consultant company, Hewshott, to study the improvements needed for the auditoriums at Newman, Pollard and the High School. Hewshott recommended the district tackle safety deficiencies immediately, which is expected to be resolved within one year, at a cost of about $345,000.
Superintendent Dan Gutekanst explained, “For example, at Newman, one thing that we want to tackle as soon as possible is rigging, and that includes the catwalk, that includes some of the pulleys and in some of the ways, the stage is set up.”
Hewshott also suggested that the district should further upgrade the theatrical systems in four steps, including minor repairs to make existing systems operational, and major construction, which requires general contractors. The cost of upgrading the theatrical systems to meet thier benchmark is approximately four and a half million dollars. The schedule is subject to when the funding is secured.
Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations, told the School Committee where she expected the money to come from.”We will have potentially some money left in some of our school accounts, we are looking for building maintenance to partner with us on a number of those things. So we would be using existing funding that we would cobble together from different places to try and tackle only the most immediate of those items. We would need to go to Town Meeting through a warrant article, either through the capital plan or some other kind of warrant article to do the remaining items.”
As Pollard is already included in the School Facility Master Plan for renovation and expansion, the upgrade of its auditorium also needs to be paced with the larger plan.
“You do not want to go into the Pollard Auditorium and put a lot of money into it when that may come out for a bigger project.” stated Gutekanst. “So that’s something that the School Committee and the community is going to have to talk about. What what will make the most sense?”