LPSB begins talks on possible Comeaux High performance space

LAFAYETTE, La. (The Daily Advertiser) – Lafayette Parish School Board members had their first discussion Tuesday about what kind of performing arts facilities can and should be built at Comeaux High.

Several questions remain, including whether to build an auditorium or learning spaces first. An initial proposal for an 800-seat auditorium could also be modified into a theater that seats around 500 people.

Some kind of space is needed, because the Performing Arts Academy will move from Lafayette High to Comeaux High in 2017.

There already is a Visual Arts Academy at Comeaux High, and many at the school would like to see the two academies be able to collaborate on education in the arts and creativity.

Initial estimates show an auditorium would cost around $12 million, and secondary spaces, such as rehearsal rooms, classrooms, equipment rooms and storage spaces, would cost another $5 million to $6 million.

“My goal is to make sure the students have what they need first, and what we want second,” said board member Jeremy Hidalgo, at Tuesday’s facilities committee meeting. “We know we have facilities to perform, so do we need another performance facility, or do we need another learning facility?”

Some board members said students could perform at Lafayette venues such as Angelle Hall, the Heymann Performing Arts Center or other schools. But the district would have to consider rental fees, and the fact that those spaces are often booked solid, especially in the spring.

“We know we can rent buildings in Lafayette,” said Superintendent Donald Aguillard. “Do we want that to be the long-term solution to the performing area for performing arts? It had been widely assumed Comeaux High School would one day be the performing arts school in the district. It makes sense that the end game is a performing arts area for these students as they develop these skills.”

Board member Britt Latiolais suggested delaying an auditorium and building other spaces first.

“My line of thinking is that we want to grow the performing arts, which is why we moved it,” he said. “If you have the educational spaces and the classrooms, I think that allows the students to learn on the performance side, and we can do the performance venue down the line.”

Greg Robin, director of the Performing Arts Academy, said he would like the board to consider a smaller auditorium as a way to reduce the project cost.

“If we wait to build the auditorium for a Phase II, then we could be in rental agreements for eons,” he said. “A place to perform is actually your centerpiece of your performing arts academy or visual arts academy. We want it to be a part of the community.”

Jackie Lyle, who has worked in Lafayette’s artistic community for years, suggested a feasibility study that considers how other local performers may use a new auditorium.

Lyle also said other funding mechanisms may be available.

“I believe that there is some creativity that could be activated around funding to look at a partnership between local government, your budget and private philanthropy,” she said. “I would really discourage you from doing anything more than you know you can operate and maintain. There are so many other things that go into a theater besides the building costs.”

The item next goes to the school board’s finance committee for further discussion.

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