Long before the new auditorium at Storm Lake High School is finished, the inevitable discussion has started - should the joint be used to attract professional performances for the community, or should it be reserved for student use?
And the answer is (drum roll)...
First and foremost, the facility is being built as part of the high school, and for a reason. It is badly needed for the students. There should never, ever be a time when a student group needs it and can't get in because something else has been allowed to take priority.
So, during the school year, it should be property of the kids. The district is blessed to have outstanding performance arts programs and all should have a fair turn - drama and musicals; orchestra, band, jazz, chorus; dance team and speech; maybe even visual arts shows and other demonstrations in the lobby. It could screen student-made films, and host talent shows. Guest speakers to address the students, certainly.
If scheduling allows, perhaps it could even be made available for St. Mary's students for a play, continuing a tradition of inclusion. We're aware that Iowa Central Community College would also like to bring some of its performances to satellite campus cities like Storm Lake, but hasn't had a venue.
But that's the school year. Students likely would seldom need the facility in the summer, and perhaps the last couple of weeks of each old school year and the first couple of the new one.
That would be enough time to schedule a series of performance events in there. Storm Lake United has some experience in that role.
If we fashion ourselves as a tourism community, we need to continue to develop entertainment events to attract people, and give them something to do while they are staying in our hotels and campground. We have boating and golfing and so on during the day, but what about the nights?
We have the Spectacular, LakeFest and Wood, Wine & Blues with bands, and they all attract crowds. But they are also all outdoor events, as are the municipal band concerts. That means they are vulnerable to weather.
There are also a few weeks over the winter holidays when students will not be in the facility. Long enough to revive the blues festival Storm Lake once held, or launch a film festival.
Personally, I would like to see us give a standing invitation to all of the performing groups of the U.S. military, which are all outstanding and all a sure sell-out.
There were hopes back in the AWAYSIS era, of using a portable stage to bring concerts and other events to the Green Space regularly, but set-up, tear-down and policing of such events is simply too big a job to do on say a weekly basis.
We're not without resources, of course. From time to time Buena Vista University opens an ACES professional performance to the public, along with several drama and music events featuring their own students. The Knights of Columbus Hall has been pressed into service for a concert or even a European-style circus now and then. King's Pointe hosts a few entertainment events including this season a mystery theatre outing. Regatta Grille is capable of staging a small concert on its patio in good weather. Even the Chautatuqua shelter and tennis courts are put to use.
Since the early days of planning for our auditorium, the Claussen Center in Holstein and the Sami Center in Spirit Lake have been looked to among examples. Both host professional events for the communities as well as being used by the students at their respective schools.
Regardless, we imagine that the district may need to hire an employee to oversee the auditorium at least part time. Coordinating ticket sales and advertising, setting up lighting and sound boards, and keeping a highly-used facility maintained is no simple task. Hopefully, a bit of income from hosting a limited number of professional entertainers could go to the house to help, sparing taxpayers.
Speaking of taxpayers, as we recall, this project exists because the community made it so, passing a $17.5 million proposal for a mixture of future SILO/SAVE one-cent sales tax through 2029 and an increased and extended Physical Plant and Equipment property tax levy though 2026 to pay off the project. Granted, no promises were made, but the expectations were that officials were open to community uses for the long-awaited auditorium.
Students first, always, no question. Everyone should be on the same page on that.
But when they aren't using it, locking the place up would achieve little.
It does belong to the entire community.
A great facility is a used facility. Let the place echo with laughter and music. Make all we can of it.