Much of the debate and confusion over a $75 million school renovation bond in Regional School Unit 21 centers on a proposed performing arts center at Kennebunk High School.
The $53.5 million in proposed renovations at the high school includes a $9.9 million standalone building to house a new auditorium and classroom space for band and chorus classes. Right now, the band room can hold only a third of the band at one time and the auditorium is far too small, according to school officials.
The new building – which would be across a courtyard from the main building – would include a 500-seat theater.
However, the size of that building could grow if a private group raises $20 million to create the Southern Maine Center for Visual and Performing Arts. The private funds would be used to essentially expand the high school’s performing arts building to an 85,000-square-foot facility with three levels, a 900-seat theater, a black box theater and studio space that could be used by the community.
Traci Gere, a Kennebunkport resident who is on the board of the performing arts center, said the larger facility would be “an economic boon” for the community and has the potential to bring people to Kennebunk from other areas. She said the plan has been vetted by people who run similar venues and she believes the idea is a viable one.
Representatives of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Portland Symphony Orchestra, Portland Ovations and DaPonte String Quartet of Damariscotta have all written letters in support of the independent performing arts center.
The Southern Maine Center for Visual and Performing Arts has been incorporated as an organization independent from the school district and its nonprofit status is pending with the state.
The $20 million to be raised privately for the expanded center would not include money from the bond or taxpayers. But if the larger center is built, RSU 21 would be responsible for maintaining its dedicated educational spaces and a portion of the cost of maintaining shared spaces.
Superintendent Andrew Dolloff said the school district would need to know in about 16 months if the $20 million is in place to build the larger facility.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: