RHPS students at boeRHPS students perform at Thursday's BoE meeting
An historic Richmond Hill gym may soon become a home for the performing arts, thanks to the efforts of some local residents.
The newly created Performing Arts Committee hopes to take the school district’s two-story gym, located near the RHES, and transform it into a community performing arts center. The committee went before the Board of Education during a called meeting prior to the regular meeting on Thursday, Jan. 24.
Chairman Linda Barker has gotten together with her husband Larry, Mayor Richard Davis, City Manager Mike Melton and project architects/engineers Courtney Ainsworth and Gene Brogdon, to help turn the gym into something the whole county can benefit from.
"We believe this is a historic landmark that should be preserved. We hope to have local and world class entertainers," Barker said, noting the entertainment will range from theatre to art to music to dance, and everything in between. "This center would add a cultural dimension to the people of Richmond Hill and Bryan County."
Ainsworth created the architectural design. While he said changes will likely happen as plans develop, the plan currently calls for a 700-seat auditorium, a moveable stage that can fill the needs of a variety of performers, orchestra pits and balcony areas.
"I got excited about this because I’ve got children and grandchildren here in Richmond Hill. My daughters love drama," he said. "My 19-year-old, her and her friends were drama kids and they sort of fell through the cracks…if you don’t play sports, you don’t really have anything. Kids need something to get involved with."
Ainsworth also raised the idea, once the new RHES opens, some space in the current building could be used to offer classes such as play writing, stage building, costume design, prop making, etc.
Another important reason raised is Arts on the Coast would have a permanent venue.
"If the building can be converted in the right way, it would certainly give us a wonderful opportunity," said Arts on the Coast board member Sarah Volker. "If the county and city want to do something for this area, this would be a great way to do it and we would certainly want to be involved."
Arts on the Coast President Barbara Estes agreed.
"We need something like this and it needs to be something the community-at-large can use – not just the schools or just Arts on the Coast – but everyone," said Estes. "I feel like this is a step in the right direction. I think it would benefit the community in a lot of different ways because it could be used for so many different things."
Davis said the committee's next step will be to create a foundation and start looking into funding, including grants.
"Many small town theatres have been converted to performing arts theatres," Davis said. "But Richmond Hill was not blessed to have a theatre. So, sometime ago I began to think about the old gymnasium…it’d be a shame not to utilize it when it can benefit the community."
Davis said the city has done a good job providing sports facilities for children, but not enough for children interested in the performing arts.
"We might have the next Carrie Underwood among us, you never know," he pointed out. "We need a place for children to have the opportunity to foster their talents. We can all work together on this and we can make it happen."
The board told the committee the building was given to them by the Ford family and the Ford Foundation – two groups that don’t actually get along, according to Chairman Eddie Warren.
Superintendent Dr. Sallie Brewer told the group that to get around that, they would be happy to lease the building – for a minimal charge, discussed at $1 per year. The BoE attorney said the lease could be for 50 years, with the option to renew.
Brewer said when the new RHES is completed next to Carver, the gym will no longer be needed and the committee would be welcome to get started; that’s likely to happen at the end of the next school year. Warren requested the board be kept abreast of how plans progress, keeping the project a cooperative effort. The board made an agreement with the committee to create a lease draft that will be signed at a future date.
In other business:
- After last month’s called meeting to look at different architects, the board unanimously approved Buckley and Associates, their current architect, to create the plans for the new Richmond Hill Middle School and master plan the entire 98 acre site where the new school will be located. "We went through interviews, went on tours and looked at properties built by the architects," Warren said. Judy Crosby said, after seeing some other local schools, she truly appreciates all that the district’s maintenance workers do to keep the schools looking good.
- The meeting was held at the RHPS and the chorus students sang for the crowd. See video footage of their performance at bryancountynews.net.
- The RHHS All State Band members were presented with awards. The five students were selected out of 1,500 and include Amanda Ramsay, Emily Li, Jonathan Gay, Welton Li and Matt Pickett.
- The RHMS Coastal Empire Region girls’ basketball team was honored, including Sarah Goolsby, Lakeshia Durham, Keri Edwards, Aliyah Johnson, Kendra Ford, Breanna Cota, Olivia Bascombe, Sydney Millek, Trisha Jennings, Jenai’ Polite, Bailey Crawford and Brandy Franklin. The team had a perfect 11-0 record during their 2007-2008 season.
- The board approved a $300 donation from the Richmond Hill Wildcat Band Boosters for industrial shelving in the RHMS band room and a $3,000 donation in memory of Robert "Red" Bowers from his family to be used for uniforms for the BCHS girls’ basketball team.