The Baldwin-Whitehall School Board decided not to spend roughly $84,000 to improve Baldwin High School's auditorium stage rigging system ... not yet, anyway.
After a lengthy discussion over how the old the current system is, how safe it is and what a new system could do, the board's members voted, 8-0, on Wednesday night to table (delay) a vote on the rigging system until it reconvenes on Nov. 7. (Board member Kevin J. Fischer was absent.)
B-W School District solicitor Ed Lawrence confirmed with Paul D. Svirbel, district facilities director, that Baldwin-Whitehall would still be in compliance with the rigging's bidding process should it vote on it on Nov. 7.
Some board members were dissatisfied during an Oct. 3 meeting when limited details of the rigging system were given to them for the first time, including Nancy Sciulli DiNardo, who said then, "It's one thing to be treated like a potted plant by administration. It's another thing to be treated like a potted plant by my colleagues."
The 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.
Board President John B. Schmotzer, who had the most knowledge on Oct. 3 among board members of the rigging system and the bid to replace it, was absent from that meeting. Schmotzer attended Wednesday night's meeting, however, and apologized for not filling in his fellow board members better.
"It totally slipped my mind," Schmotzer said. "If I had I looked at the agenda last week, I would have suggested to Dr. Lutz that we'd better have Mr. Svirbel and other people (there) to explain what was happening.
"That wasn't done, so I do apologize to my fellow board members. However, the fact remains that we have an issue up at the auditorium with the rigging system."
Lutz explained on Wednesday night 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, Lutz said, "so there would be cost moving forward to repair those, because we need all 24 line sets for the (high school) musical, at a minimum."
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 past 13 months, the high school auditorium has hosted 351 events, including 238 that have 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."
Board member George L. Pry, who on Oct. 3, was against buying a new rigging system—Pry said then that the school district's current economic situation shouldn't allow for it—now feels differently after receiving more information.
For one, he said, repairing the three broken lines will still cost the district $18,000. And that is after the district already replaced six lines in 2010.
"Do you want to put good money after bad?" he asked.
He was joined in agreement by Schmotzer, who said that replacing all of the lines will allow each of them to have an upgraded capacity of 3,000 pounds.
Fellow board member Larry Pantuso confirmed with Lutz, though, that the current system is approved for use and that no students are being put in harm's way. However, Lutz could not guarantee that more pieces of the system won't fail anytime soon.
Board member Tracy Macek was the first to propose tabling a vote on the rigging. "I don't feel that I have enough time to look over this information and make a decision," Macek said, eventually prompting the 8-0 vote.
"I would be willing to vote for fixing the three (broken lines) ... at this time," Sciulli DiNardo said, "but I'm not prepared to vote for an entire system ... unless somebody tells me that it is imperative that we vote on this tonight.
"I just can't see spending $80,000 on something because it may break, it may not break, we might need it, we do need it. Either we need it and it's a problem, or we don't. Eighty thousand dollars is a lot of money, and in six months, we're gonna sit back around here and start talking about a budget. And then, we're gonna get angry when we don't wanna raise taxes.
"If you wanna table it, let me think about it. I might be convinced."
Schmotzer reminded board members that the money to replace the rigging system could come from leftover funds in the district's construction account, which he estimated at $296,000 before an audit. In fact, he said, "That money cannot be used for any purpose within the school district other than construction-related projects.
"It cannot be used to pay salaries. It cannot be used to buy books. We're not robbing the money out of educational funds to do this."
Check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch later on Thursday for more odds and ends from Wednesday night's school board meeting.
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