More than seven years ago—in April 2008—the Flagler County School Board approved a five-year plan for its facilities that included expanding the lobby of the Flagler Auditorium. Back then the expansion was not designed to accommodate patrons so much as “to serve as an art museum for student works,” as the board agreed during a workshop. But the most substantial improvement to the auditorium since has not been the lobby. It’s been a new stage, a new marquee, and a new roof, which cost $371,000.
Tuesday evening, in the first joint meeting between the school board and the auditorium’s board in about a decade, auditorium officials told the school board that they’re looking for money and help from the district to invest in a 24-year-old facility that needs attention. “I can’t really say we’re a state of the art facility anymore,” Auditorium Director Lisa McDevitt told the school board, but she’d like to be able to say it again.
To get there, it’ll take getting serious about expanding the lobby, especially to improve the patron experience, McDevitt said, improving the bathrooms, which have limited capacity, improving lighting in the parking lot, addressing “staffing concerns,” revisiting 10-year-old plans—since shelved—to build a new band and chorus room and perhaps add a dance room, and reflect the growth of arts programs in the schools in the district’s strategic plan—and its showcase facility.
In the past 10 years, for example, the band program at Flagler Palm Coast High School has doubled in size, to 200, and the Flagler Youth Orchestra, which started with a little over 100 students in its first year, has more than tripled in size, with those programs making full use of the auditorium for performances (and the band jamming up the band room within the auditorium complex). “If these programs are going to continue to grow we’re going to need our facilities to grow with them,” McDevitt said. “I’m not asking for answers right now, I’m just getting food for thought, and we’re just going to go through some stuff.”
A facility about to celebrate its 25th anniversary needs some attention.
Auditorium President Richard Hamilton noted to the board that nowhere in the district’s strategic plan do the terms “arts in education” or the Auditorium appear. Hamilton didn’t say so, but the lack of explicit support in the plan may be interpreted as a worrisome signal—or lack of signal—that could enable a future board not to take the arts as seriously as this one does, though this one has by all accounts made arts in education a priority.
“I know by our actions we’re certainly a district that supports the arts,” Colleen Conklin, who chairs the board, said, words Superintendent Jacob Oliva immediately echoed. But it’s a district-wide approach of which the auditorium, a $650,000 enterprise separate from the district’s budget, is only one part. (The performance budget is separate, but the capital and personnel budget is not: the district heavily subsidizes the auditorium in those regards. Its employees are district employees.)
A quarter century ago local voters approved a bond levy to build the auditorium on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School, making it a unique publicly supported venue, with the district’s support. “We all know what the school budgets are like. Is this something we’d consider putting on the ballot to see if the community would support it?” school board member Sue Dickinson asked, in light of the considerable but yet undefined costs the auditorium is looking at.
But there’s little appetite on the board or the community for another school tax: the last one, designed to directly support educational programs two years ago, failed. Rather, the district will have to incorporate auditorium needs in its capital budget. But to do so, adding auditorium projects means cutting other projects. In the meantime, Conklin asked the auditorium for a more specific list specifying the needs of the parking lot and attaching more precise numbers to classroom, staffing and equipment needs. (McDevitt mentioned about $80,000 in equipment needs), in addition to clarity on “the total staff you have on board, their roles and responsibilities, then what’s the need, where’s the gap, so there’s the ability to look at the whole picture.”
Board member Andy Dance said the auditorium has an important place in the district’s arts mission, but “we have to look at district wide, the other schools and expansion of arts, what possible capital costs there might be there.”
In the immediate future, both boards agreed that steps are necessary to improve the auditorium and its patrons’ experience. For a start, the two boards have agreed to establish a joint committee that will be responsible for drawing up needs more clearly, and keeping the school board informed in recurring presentations before the board, and possibly with more frequent joint meetings between the two organizations’ boards.