Carthage Arts Center

An artist’s rendering shows how the front of a performing arts center might look if the Carthage School District proceeds with efforts to build such a structure near the high school. COURTESY | CARTHAGE SCHOOL DISTRICT

CARTHAGE, Mo. — The Carthage Board of Education must vote this month to place a bond issue on the ballot in April to build a new performing arts center on the campus of Carthage High School.

Superintendent Mark Baker recently shared more details, including schematics and drawings of what a performing arts center could look like, with the board.

He said the existing 800-seat auditorium, located at the Sixth Grade Center, serves as the district’s performing arts center, but it is out of date and too small for the district’s needs.

“We should always keep children’s best interests as our thought process for curriculum, instruction, buildings,” Baker said. “Think about instructional time, instructional opportunities, instructional space — three things we review in any building. When we build a new building, those are the things we look at.”

Baker said the current auditorium, built in 1987, falls short in many other areas, including the size of the stage and a lack of storage space and dressing rooms.

“We have outgrown what we have,” he said.

Another important factor is the loss of instruction time when students have to travel back and forth between the high school and the auditorium, which is 2.5 miles away. Students lose seven minutes of instruction traveling in each direction, a significant amount from any single school day, Baker said.

He said the new building would be a performing arts center, not an auditorium.

“An auditorium is where the event happens; a performing arts center encompasses everything,” Baker said. “In our new facility, if it’s approved by the board and by the public, band, choir (and) drama will be all together in the facility they’re going to be using. Right now, they might have to do some practicing in their rooms, then move later onto the stage.”

With the addition of a performing arts center, the district could take existing spaces dedicated to those programs and remodel them into classroom spaces, he said.

Funding

Two years ago, the board discussed “one plan, two projects,” a proposal that initially aimed to expand the Carthage Technical Center and build a new performing arts center.

That proposal was ultimately whittled down, and in 2020, voters approved a $10 million bond issue to add to the South Tech Center and renovate the North Tech Center in Carthage. The measure extended the district’s debt-service levy of 83 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which was set to expire in 2034, to 2040.

Baker and the board then made the decision to seek $5 million in private donations to fund part of the cost of the performing arts center and go for another bond issue, to again extend the 83-cent levy, to fund the rest.

But Baker now says fiscal conditions have changed since 2020. If voters approve extending the 83-cent levy for two more years, that would allow the district to borrow about $18 million, which is close to the amount needed to pay for the performing arts center, he said.

The district already has a pledge from Pat and Carolyn Phelps and family to donate $750,000 to the performing arts center, and Baker said fundraising can begin in earnest now that the district has drawings to show what people are donating to.

“The $18 million will be in the close ballpark of what we need to build it,” Baker said. “With the extra pledged money we’ll eventually get from pledges, that will put us near $20 million and get pretty much what we need. It won’t get everything we want, but it will get what we need.”

Board members seemed generally supportive of putting the issue on the ballot in April. No one publicly questioned the need for the performing arts center, although some wondered if there was a way to get more than just the center out of a bond issue and the district’s federal coronavirus aid money.

Board member Patrick Scott said the community has spoken loudly that the new performing arts center is a priority.

“It’s just something we need to do as a community, especially if that’s something that they’ve said repeatedly that this is a top priority,” Scott said.

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