After expressing differing opinions throughout October over whether or not to spend roughly $84,000 to improve Baldwin High School's auditorium stage rigging system, the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board unanimously approved the measure on Wednesday night.
Some board members, like Nancy Lee Crowder, have acknowledged that the district has other needs that could help to be addressed with that amount of money, but Crowder said on Wednesday that money left in the district's construction account—estimated at $296,000—cannot be used for anything other than construction-related projects.
Explained district solicitor Ed Lawrence, "My opinion is that if it's (the construction money's) 'capital,' it should be expended for 'capital' purposes, and that could include taking care of the building, not in the ordinary maintenance sense but in improvements."
With its 9-0 vote on Wednesday, the board authorized the payment of $83,815 to the lowest responsible bidder—Pittsburgh Stage, Inc.
The school's current rigging system—a collection of pulleys, ropes, chains, weights and similar items used prominently during theater productions—has passed safety inspections, district superintendent Dr. Randal A. Lutz said on Oct. 3, but it has a "reduced capacity," Lutz said, compared to a newer rigging system.
Lutz explained on Oct. 10 that the auditorium's current system dates back, mostly, to 1964 and that pieces of it "are failing."
Six of the system's 24 line sets were replaced from their originals in 2010 during an auditorium renovation project, he said, but the other 18, despite some being refurbished throughout the years, remain "reduced significantly in capacity."
The original sets, Lutz said, have a working capacity of 520 pounds, while the 2010 sets can handle 1,500 pounds. Moreover, three of the 24 existing sets have failed recently.
"We need all 24 line sets for the (high school) musical, at a minimum," Lutz said.
Lutz said that musical Director Kris Tranter's "biggest fear would be to step out in front of the curtain and say, 'Pardon us while we fix the curtain,' or if it was something even more significant."
According to Lutz's research, in the roughly 13-month period preceding Oct. 10, the high school auditorium hosted 351 events, including 238 that utilized the stage rigging system to some degree.
"We built something with the idea to attract more shows and additional things," Lutz said, "and it worked. It's a busy room, and because of that, some of the equipment that we thought we were gonna get better life out of, we haven't."
Said Crowder said on Wednesday, "With the equipment being the age that it is, I just feel that it's a safety issue.
"This has been in our capital improvement plan for the long haul. After going and seeing how all this works and seeing the possibility of what could happen at a musical, I picture a room full of taxpayers being in that auditorium and having that curtain freeze and that musical having to be canceled or postponed.
"I think that the taxpayers would be very disappointed if that would be the case because of everything else that we've done over there."
Baldwin High's theater program captured a "Best Musical" honor at the 2012 Gene Kelly Awards while using the school's current rigging system.
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And check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch throughout Thursday for more news from Wednesday's school board meeting.
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