Newtown High School applied technology teacher Tom Swetts is hoping to raise money to improve the NHS auditorium before he retires at the end of this school year.
When he started working at the school 19 years ago, Mr Swetts said he was asked to create a five-year plan for maintaining the auditorium. Since then, Mr Swetts said the auditorium has been placed lower on the district’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) each year.
“I think what prompted this is the Capital Improvement Plan,” said Mr Swetts this week.
The Board of Education’s current CIP has $2.3 million allocated in the 2014-15 fiscal year for work in the school’s auditorium — including making the space complaint with the Americans with Disabilities Act, replacing duct work, replacing lighting, replacing seating, and work on the fire sprinkler system.
“I am hoping that finally the CIP will include the auditorium,” said Mr Swetts, adding that, if it is included in the CIP, he hopes his fund drive will allow for better products to be put in place, like a higher quality sound system.
Since he first created his five-year plan, Mr Swetts said there have been some improvements to the high school auditorium, including fire and electrical improvements completed in 1998. In 2000 a new sound system was installed, but electrical power surges when the latest high school expansion project was under way blew those speakers.
Some of the seats in the auditorium are missing, while others may not be usable. Before President Barack Obama arrived to speak at the high school in December, following 12/14, Mr Swetts said the seat the president would be sitting in had to be fastened down to the floor for safety. Of the 1,154 seats in the auditorium, Mr Swetts said roughly 700 have been counted as usable. When speaking about comfort, Mr Swetts compared sitting in the usable chairs to “trying to sleep on a 40-year old mattress.”
The stage in the auditorium had gotten so bad, according to Mr Swetts, that by the summer of 2012 students volunteered to replace it, saving the district roughly $10,000.
Before the 12.14 Foundation’s inaugural production of Seussical: The Musical in August, Mr Swetts said the production had to bring in its own rigging, because the high school’s rigging did not meet code.
Lights in the auditorium have to be replaced frequently, because the sockets have crystallized, causing new bulbs to only last a few days before going out.
If enough money can be raised, Mr Swetts hopes the lighting in the auditorium can be replaced with LED lights. He said he has heard of one high school that has installed LED lights in its auditorium, and that high school brought their electrical costs down by roughly 80 percent. LED lights also last longer, Mr Swetts said.
The high school also has a stage in its new cafetorium, but Mr Swetts said that stage is not capable of being used in the same way the high school auditorium’s stage is used.
Prior to the last two additions to the high school, Mr Swetts said he spoke with the architects at the time, but the architects eventually did what they wanted. In 1998, Mr Swetts said the high school’s rigging was worked on, but that left the stage’s curtains crooked. The curtains no longer hang straight.
Mr Swetts said he hopes his fund drive will help avoid such a thing from happening again.
An engineering study, funded by a generous $15,000 donation in May, was completed for the auditorium’s sound system. With that done, Mr Swetts said now is the time to build off it to improve the sound system.
“I’m hoping what we can raise can give us better quality, more professional equipment,” said Mr Swetts.
The idea for the fund drive came to him out of frustration, according to Mr Swetts, but he also sees restoring and maintain the high school auditorium, which holds a number of productions open to the community each year, as the town’s responsibility.
“The more we raise the more we can get done,” Mr Swetts said.
He also hopes all the needed improvements will be completed by the time he retires in June.
People interested in donating to the fund drive can do so online here.