Storm Lake High School Transformation

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When Storm Lake High School was built in 1962, a theatre was part of the plan. It had to be cut. When Storm Lake Middle School was built decades later, it was to have an auditorium. It had to be cut. When Storm Lake Elementary was built, a performance facility was discussed. It had to be cut.

After 50-plus years of waiting, and nearly three years of non-stop construction, the dream is done.

On Sunday, a dedication will formally open the doors of the new 750-seat Storm Lake High School Auditorium - and celebrate a massive expansion/renovation- totaling some $18.7 million in improvements.

A community committee was formed in 2011 to create a plan for an auditorium, but the real turning point came more than a year later, when voters went to the polls to approve a physical plant and equipment levy and sales tax issue that would raise the funds for the ambitious project.

"All over the state we see districts go to the voters, and they don't approve a PPEL. This says a lot about our community," Superintendent of Schools Carl Turner reflects. "Everyone is invested. I think people are really excited. The enthusiasm is really cool - this is something the community has wanted for a long, long time."

The committee set about visiting other performing arts facilities around the state, collecting the best features to incorporate into the Storm Lake plan. "They did a fantastic job," Turner said. "If it wasn't for the auditorium committee getting this started, the whole renovation would never have happened."

Some of those auditorium features to look for: a "fly" - a towering backstage area that allows set pieces to be lifted away from the stage to accommodate theatrical and professional performances; an especially wide stage to make way for the large numbers of students taking part in band, orchestra and choir; ramped hallways to each side of the auditorium seating area to make the facility fully disability-accessible; lofted theater-style seating area so a good view can be had from anywhere in the house; a huge projection screen that lowers into place to nearly stretch across the entire stage, acoustically-friendly walls with huge panels that are artistic representations of sailboat sails in a nod to the community's nautical nature.

The seats are done in a glen green, the walls in a light shade of green, and the stage curtains in very dark green. "A true Tornado green would have been overwhelming, but green is our color. It's a matter of pride," Turner smiles.

The district turned to David Walker, a theatrical staging expert from Buena Vista University, to advise them on sound, lighting and equipment.

"We really want to use this facility as a learning place, and not just for the students performing on stage. We chose equipment that is very advanced and challenging, and yet pieces that our students will be able to learn and operate themselves," Turner said.

Time, it seems, has been the greatest challenge for this project. The auditorium was originally to be done by the end of the summer in 2015, but had to be pushed back several times. Workers on Thursday and Friday were still finishing up minor details, and cleaning was to go virtually up to the time of the open house. With final stages of construction ongoing, Turner said he hopes the public will excuse any dust.

Finances have also been an issue. As the project exceeded budget, the board of education had to make decisions for adjustments and elements to be put off in the work going on around the school. "Throughout that process, the board was adamant about protecting the quality of the auditorium," Turner said.

With the public making the project possible with a tax approval vote, making the first event in the auditorium an open house for the community brings the effort full circle.

The renovations have touched all areas of the complex, creating more welcoming, brighter and flexible areas. The spacious, security-minded front lobby leads into an expanded commons area and new kitchen and server areas that make meals more efficient. To one side of the lobby is the new suite of offices, with a visitor-friendly reception desk and a large school sign made entirely of letters cut from mirrored glass. Adjacent is a counseling suite with its own student entry, set up to allow discussion is a more informal setting. A few steps away is a new media center encased in glass walls, with a computer lab. To the southeast end of the building, a new science wing, and a dedicated area for freshman classrooms, has been constructed, complete with glass-wall entries that flood open spaces with light. A new glass paneled conference room is an island within this space. Science rooms are fitted with the latest in technology and stations for experiential learning.

There are new classrooms for Special Education, a Consumer Sciences classroom featuring a kitchen that would put the finest restaurants to shame. A large fitness facility is split into two different workout studios, one for weight training and one for cardio.

Toward the northwest end of the building, the new auditorium dominates, with music rooms and a green room for performers opening right onto the backstage area. Adjacent is the new auxiliary gym, so both facilities can be served by the same ticketing area. The gym features its own scoreboards and bleachers. In the hall leading to the gym, a series of new lighted, built-in wood showcases encase athletic and arts trophies.

Elsewhere around the buildings, classrooms have been renovated and modernized, and out front, a new traffic system laid out that dramatically improves bus loading and unloading.

The project is the biggest for the 60-year-old Carroll-based construction company Badding to date. Workers said a core of about a dozen people crafted the building along with the various subcontractors. "It's our baby," one said. "We've been here for going on three years, driving an hour to get here every morning, and we're proud of how it has turned out. This is something for the town to be proud of for a long time."

Former School Board member Ed McKenna, who spoke during the groundbreaking for the project, was a junior in high school the year SLHS opened in 1962, noted board president Peter Seinfeld.

"Ever since then it has been a dream and an aspiration to create an auditorium," "It has been a long process, but it finally came true.

"It opens up so many new opportunities - not just bricks and mortar, but a form of encouragement for young people to get up on the stage and try. Whether it is music, theatre, dance, speech - there are so many possibilities. It is a very real way of showing that this community appreciates the value of performance as being critically important for kids."

Students of all age levels will utilize the auditorium, and while students will always have the priority access, at other times it will be available to community groups or professional performance groups to utilize on a fee schedule approved by the school board this week.

Steinfeld praised Superintendent Turner for shepherding the project to completion. "He has been so patient through this whole process,working with the contractors and architects to make sure this gets done right." He also credited school teachers, staff and students for working through the inconvenience of three school years with their building under heavy construction. "The last couple of years have not been optimal conditions, but everyone managed to stay positive, realizing what a great transformation was taking place."

Project Timeline

* Auditorium Committee formed by Board of Education: September 11, 2011

* I&S Group hired as Auditorium Consultant: January 18, 2012

* DLR Group selected as architectural firm: November 27, 2012

* Voter Approved PPEL and revenue purpose vote: December 4, 2012

* Approval of design drawings for project: May 23, 2013

* Bid opening: August 29, 2013

* Bid accepted, Badding Construction: October 24, 2013

* Groundbreaking ceremony: November 7, 2013

* Construction begins: November, 2013

* Special Education classrooms and consumer science room: August, 2014

* Science and 9th grade areas complete: January, 2015

* North classrooms complete: April, 2015

* Office, Media Center, Kitchen, Commons, Bus Loop: August, 2015

* Southeast classrooms complete: November, 2015

* Northwest classroom (SPAM) complete: April, 2016

* Band and Choir Rooms complete: March, 2016

* Auxiliary gym complete: April, 2016

* Auditorium, gym restrooms, West and North exterior: September, 2016

* Construction completed: August, 2016

* Dedication: September 25, 2016

Remaining Projects to be completed at High School

* Painting original Lockers

* Replacing original floors and doors

* Additional parking

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