, Newburyport, MA

December 13, 2012

Work on auditorium to begin next month

By Jennifer Solis

---- — WEST NEWBURY — Work is set to begin on a $100,000 project to the improve safety conditions of the Pentucket High School theater and music facilities.

Pentucket business manager Michael Bergeron has recommended that the district accept a bid for repairs to the auditorium submitted by Port Lighting Systems, a Newburyport-based division of Lighthouse Productions, Inc. in Seabrook. Port Lighting bid $86,578 for the job. The only other bid received was $108,624 from Janson Industries in Canton, Ohio.

The work, which targets outdated and dangerous rigging on the stage and electrical conditions throughout the auditorium, is set to begin in January and should be completed within a month, according to a copy of the unexecuted contract provided to the Pentucket School Committee’s Business, Finance, and Operations subcommittee earlier this month. The subcommittee approved Bergeron’s recommendation.

All events and productions slated to take place in the auditorium in January will likely be moved to the Pentucket Middle School auditorium.

In a statement issued jointly by Pentucket Arts chairman Michael Smith and music teacher David Schumacher, who manages the use of the auditorium space for the district, the two said they are thrilled the project has finally become a reality. The two men have been working closely with Bergeron to develop a game plan for tackling the much-needed safety repairs.

“This long-overdue renovation will create a much safer learning, working and performing environment for our students and community members throughout the Pentucket district. As a result, we will enjoy a far more user-friendly, flexible and accommodating space. We are forever grateful for the strong financial and amazing charitable support of the Pentucket community,” the joint statement said.

The Port Lighting bid covers $27,247 for upgrades to the stage lighting system; $17,209 for removal of a counterweight rigging and installation of a 1,000-pound capacity clew winch and curtain track with all necessary hardware; $26,809 for a hoist and control station with emergency stop; and $2,770 for replacement of 36 house lighting and 72 lamps for cover lighting over the audience seating. The remainder of the bid covers other miscellaneous electrical and hardware needs to complete the project.

During the subcommittee meeting, Pentucket chairman Brian Page questioned a decision by Superintendent Jeffery Mulqueen not to order criminal background checks on the workers who will be in the school daily during the month-long project.

But Mulqueen explained that under state law, even if he received a negative report on a worker, he could not share that information with anyone else — even the owner of the company. He assured the subcommittee that the plan is to completely close off the auditorium from students and all other activities during the renovation. And he stressed that he took seriously the responsibility of the school district “to supervise children in ways that keep them safe.”

Noting what she feels are growing costs for the ongoing renovation at the Page Elementary School in her town, West Newbury’s Jill Eichhorst asked for assurances that the auditorium project would not also “go up and up and up” in price.

Bergeron said Smith and Schumacher have prioritized the safety repairs and will start with the work to be done by Port Lighting along with construction of a shed with a concrete foundation to store the music program’s larger instruments. Overcrowding due to inadequate storage in the music room was creating a hazardous situation for students and teachers.

They will continue to tick off other items down the list with any funds remaining with the clear understanding that they must only spend up to the $100,000 allotted by the towns for the project.

Last spring voters in Groveland, Merrimac and West Newbury agreed to extend a 10-year bond set to retire in 2015, allocating a total of $800,000 to address deteriorating conditions and safety issues to building and grounds at the secondary-school campus.

Of that amount, $100,000 was targeted for serious safety issues with rigging and lighting and asbestos floor remediation in the auditorium. Replacements for broken choral risers, platforms and auditorium seating and more adequate storage for large musical instruments were included in the discussion on Town Meeting floor.

However, the plan to replace the aging asbestos tile flooring on the stage wound up being a budget buster that could not be accommodated with the money funded, according to Smith.

Capital plans to repair or replace the outdoor tennis courts, track and field and exterior bleachers could not be accomplished within the $700,000 budget funded for those projects at Town Meeting. Instead, the school board is weighing options for a more comprehensive redesign of the secondary campus fields that could cost upwards of $3 million.

The district does not plan to go back to taxpayers for additional funding for the expanded scope, however. Instead, they will seek to raise the money through fundraisers, private donations and grants.