OCS auditorium renovation set to begin

By Jay Braman Jr.
The doors are locked. Ladders rest against the dingy walls where missing acoustic panels have left ugly glue patches the size of softballs. On stage there is a pile of old scenery stacked up in front of a curtain that is even dingier than the walls. Lights are out everywhere and broken seats speckle the large hall, that is the Onteora High School Auditorium. Such is the scene this week in the auditorium, but that’s about to change for the better in a big way.
The Onteora Middle/High school auditorium closed its doors before the winter break as the administration prepares for an ambitious $1.2 million renovation that will include all new seating, carpeting and lights, a paint job, air conditioning, a new sound system, a motorized projection screen and all new stage rigging.
At a recent school board meeting KSQ architect Armond Quadrini gave a series of presentations including a time line between the auditorium bid process and a projected completion time. Bids have been submitted and will be officially opened soon. Construction is expected to begin shortly after the winter break. The expectation is that Onteora students will enjoy a new auditorium when they begin school next September.
The renovations were approved by voters nearly two years ago when the state announced that EXCEL (EXpanding our Children’s Education and Learning) state aid packages were available. But because of a backlog of requests throughout the state, the aid was stalled.
The eagerly awaited project has been a long time coming. In the summer of 2004 the district’s facilities supervisor Jim O’Neil was approached by a teacher with a problem. While trying to adjust one of the back curtains on the auditorium stage, built when the high school went up over 50 years ago, he got a wood splinter in his hand. O’Neil called in an engineering company to see what was up, and it was soon discovered that there were some serious problems with the aging stage rigging that everyone had been taking for granted for years. A similarly aged auditorium collapsed in Washingtonville the year before, so engineers suggested that the stage rigging be declared unsafe, and the high school’s main stage closed down until it could be replaced.
There was talk of replacing the old rigging immediately, until bids to do so came in at four times the anticipated cost.
The renovations were approved by voters nearly two years ago when the state announced that EXCEL state aid packages were available. But because of a backlog of requests throughout the state, the aid was stalled. In 2007 voters approved the use of $1.2 million from capital reserve funds for the auditorium renovation. It is expected that the district would be reimbursed for the cost through the EXCEL state aide package.