For more than two decades of its existence, the Hillery Auditorium at Lancaster High School has served as the venue for many events beyond school events, and often those events have taken place during the summer. Several concerts and recitals, including the Kids from Wisconsin several times. It has served as the rain location for several summer mainstays, including holding past concerts of the Grant County Fair, and finally hosted both the Lancaster Community Band and the Night on the Square this past year.
It has been the goto place for large performances. It also has been extremely hot and humid during many of those events because it, like most of the rooms in the Lancaster Community School District, is not air-conditioned. That changes this summer, however, as the school district and the Lancaster Community Fund are getting together to install a cooling system into the auditorium, which will make future programs much more comfortable.
“I have been here for 14 years, and during that time we have looked at doing this, but we couldn’t justify it,” District Administrator Rob Wagner said of the idea, adding that it was looked at even before him. Wagner said that the cost estimates done in the past put the price simply too high to take away from other areas in the budget.
Things changed this past summer when Wagner was out in public and began talking with Community Fund board member Kevin Raisbeck. Raisbeck had attended a concert in the Hillery just before then, and commented about the temperature in the auditorium.
Wagner also remembers Raisbeck talking about a survey the Lancaster Community Fund had done asking residents what direction the Fund should take in supporting projects in the future. In that survey, assisting in improving the Hillery Auditorium was on the list.
As part of the new Sonny Tiedemann donation, the Fund was going to be taking on larger projects, offering up to $50,000 on certain community projects. One of the first of those has been donating to the Schreiner Memorial Library project, and now for cooling the Hillery Auditorium.
Things fell together nicely for the project. This summer the school district was already looking at making repairs to the high school roof, and handling an air conditioning project will work well into the schedule. “This is the perfect time,” Wagner noted.
Also, in review what was needed, an alternative was found where the ductwork would not need extensive insulation, which had driven up some earlier estimates over he years.
Plus, a mild winter as well as the replacement of the heating system at Winskill a couple of years ago meant a surplus in the budgeted utilities for this school year. That meant that there was enough money within the budget to help the district cover the costs above what the Community Fund was donating.
Last week during their monthly meeting, the Lancaster Community School Board reviewed two bids, going with H&N’s bid of $79,000 for the project.
“We felt that with the help of the Lancaster Community Foundation, we can make this work,” Wagner said. “I think were pretty excited to do this.”
Wagner noted the cooling system will come in handy with different school functions that take place in May and June, when it can get warmer in there, as well as back to school presentations, like the fall sports kickoff, that take place in August and September.
That is in addition to the numerous events that take place there in the summer.
Currently, the school offices and computer labs are air-conditioned, but most of the other sections of both school complexes are not. When the idea was being first reviewed, cooling both music classrooms adjacent to the auditorium was looked at, but those rooms would have required another unit.
The air conditioning installation may be the least visible capital project taking place at the middle school / high school complex this summer. In addition to the roof project, the parking lots will be resurfaced, but the biggest change will likely come to the sidewalk/stairs leading to the high school entrance, as well as the circle drive near the middle school entrance. Because of issues with the series of stairs leading up to the school - which can ice up fairly quickly, and are showing their age, plans are being drawn up to potentially remove them and replace it with a friendlier ingress / egress to the entrance.
The district may also be changing out the digital sign at the entrance, as it has been malfunctioning.