School theatre might lose orchestra pit

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, June 25, 2014
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An expanding band program at Decatur High School is in need of a bigger stage, and the solution could involve the elimination of the orchestra pit.

At last week’s school board meeting, Superintendent Rod Townsend explained that the stage at the DHS Theatre is not large enough to accommodate the 90 members of the band, and the problem will only get worse as next year’s band is projected to be around 120 members.

He suggested covering the orchestra pit in order to utilize that as stage area.

The school had previously looked at a temporary cover, but the estimated cost of $65,000 proved too expensive. Townsend said he believes a permanent cover could be installed for closer to $10,000 to $15,000.

“If we don’t do anything, we won’t be able to utilize it for our band,” Townsend said. “It’s not just that we can’t get our kids up there, it’s a danger when we push them so far to the front. You’ve got kids walking around there. I don’t want them falling off into the orchestra pit.”

The current orchestra pit could still be used for storage, which is its current primary use. Townsend said the orchestra pit has been used “maybe once” since the high school opened in 2006.

Both band director Eric McNiel and theatre arts teacher Cassidy McQuiston are in favor of covering the orchestra pit, Townsend said, adding that McQuiston could not hold one-act play competitions at the high school due to the small stage.

Townsend did warn board members that with an expanded stage, additional lighting will be needed at some point in the future.

The board voted to allow Townsend to get quotes for the project. The item will return to the board for approval since it is not budgeted.


Townsend also presented the board with information about contracting with Cenergistic, an energy management company, to help the school district reduce its energy costs.

He said the company will look at energy usage and costs over the past couple of years and come up with a plan to reduce those costs by 20-30 percent. If the company does not meet its goal, it will pay the difference to the school.

An energy specialist will be assigned to the school and will implement management practices, including employee training. Townsend said the company would like to do a co-op agreement with Bridgeport to have one specialist cover both districts.

Townsend said the company requires a 5-year contract, but there is no cost to the school.

Feedback from other schools that have used the company led Townsend to believe they could benefit Decatur ISD.

“I’ve contacted three of the schools that did business with them. and one school said it saved 32 percent from the money they budgeted,” he said.

The item will be brought back to the board at next month’s meeting for possible action.

In other business, the board agreed to request that the city deed three tracts of land at the district’s central administration campus to the district.

During the renovation process, the school discovered that the tracts of land had never been deeded to the school district. The agreement states that if the land is ever not used by the school, ownership will revert back to the city.

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