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New high school ‘theater’ opens

Cabot High School Fine Arts Auditorium is not remodeled, nor is it refurbished. “This is all new,” school district Superintendent Tony Thurman said Thursday during a tour of the newly finished facility.

From the back wall to the entrance to the concourse, everything is new, Thurman said. “We took it to just a shell and then rebuilt it,” he said.

The original Fine Arts Auditorium was designed in the 1980s and badly needed renovation, Thurman said. Not only was it “dull,” it did not meet even basic handicap-accessible provisions, he said.

And neither is it an “auditorium,” Chuck Massey, broadcasting teacher, said. “This is a theatre, now,” he said.

The new facility cost about $2.5 million, and is part of the overall building program for the district.

The seats are arranged in a divided quad pattern to give easier access, and wheelchair-capable sections are throughout the audience, Thurman said. The lighted and carpeted aisles also reduce distractions.

New ramps and architectural hand railings complete the handicap accessibility, Thurman said.

“There is not a bad seat in the house,” Thurman said. “All the seats are set up to give a clear view of the stage.”

But the seating is peripheral to the other additions, Thurman said.

Thurman took a seat in the center of the 908-seat audience area, and spoke in a conversational tone to people on the stage. “The acoustics were engineered for the best performance,” Thurman said.

Gone are the bare construction-block walls, which are now covered with gypsum board and fabric, Massey, said.

A “cloud” ceiling and panels on the walls improve the facility’s acoustic performance and give a professional look to auditorium, Massey said. “You really cannot call this an auditorium any longer. This is a professional- grade theatre,” he said.

“This is a new stage, the old one was taken out,” he said.

Features include microphone ports throughout, and a covered orchestra pit for more space when needed, he said.

The former band room is now the stagecraft area, with an out-sized doorway to the stage for ease of changing sets, Massey said.

The sound system is so state-of-the-art that Cabot is the only district to have one like it in the state, Massey said.

The lighting racks for the stage area can be lowered to adjust the lights, Massey said. “No more ladders,” he said.

Gone are the ropes and pulleys for the curtains, “The curtains operate electrically, and can be operated from the sound booth, Massey said.

Also gone is the sound booth at the rear of the auditorium, Massey said. “There is a sound booth, but it is built in on the second level, out of sight,’ he said.

The entrances to the side of the auditorium are gone, replaced with double portal rear entries, Massey said. “Before, whenever someone came in the bright light from the door drew everyone’s eye to the side. Now people can come and go without distracting from the performance, he said.

The former lobby has been transformed into dressing rooms and a “green room,” Massey said. All are linked with video panels so players and participants know what is going on, and when to prepare for their entrance.

Temporary sound booth and storage rooms were removed and reconstructed as a secondary level above new entry vestibules.

Catwalks, out of sight to the audience, permit unobtrusive adjustments to the lighting.

Even further from view are the new metal roofing system and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. “It could get pretty stuffy in here,” Thurman said.

Massey said he already has heard cries of, “It’s not fair,” from alumni. “Really, they are happy for everyone to get something like this,” he said.

“You know, when I was a student here, all we had was a stage in the cafeteria. This is wonderful,” he said.

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