CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories

AUTHOR: BOSEN

HED:Auditorium may close to replace air system

By Christopher R.C. Bosen

Daily Journal

Now or later?

Such is the question facing the Tupelo School Board as to when to replace the deteriorating, virtually inoperable, central air conditioning system at the Tupelo Civic Auditorium.

"I think the consensus of the group was to try and go ahead and do it now," Superintendent Mike Vinson said after a Monday morning meeting with school board members and representatives of the Cultural Alliance of Tupelo/Lee County.

Len Schaefer, director of operations for Tupelo Public Schools, told the assembled group he will meet with an engineer Thursday or Friday to develop a specific time line for the project.

"It's all going to be based on the engineer's opinion," Schaefer said regarding when the work could be completed.

During the hourlong meeting at the Hancock Leadership Center, Vinson said a new system will take approximately 45 to 90 days to build and another 45 to 90 days to install.

"At the very minimum we would be shut down the first semester through Christmas," Vinson said of beginning the work as soon as funds from the recently passed $29.5 million bond issue are available.

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Closing the Civic Auditorium for the remainder of the year would force the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra, Tupelo Community Concerts, and the Tupelo Ballet to relocate several events planned for the 1,400-seat venue.

The Tupelo Ballet is scheduled for two performances of "Nutcracker" Dec. 4 in the Civic Auditorium and artistic director Sharon Long said no other area venue can accommodate the production.

"I just need a stage," Long told the group, which included School Board President Polly Bailey and member Charlotte McElroy. "I don't care if I have heat and air."

Frank Riley of Tupelo Community Concerts said he has already presold 1,400 season ticket subscriptions and has events scheduled Oct. 7, Nov. 29, Feb. 5, and April 22 but would be willing to relocate to another venue, if possible.

"I would like for them to start and get it over with myself," Riley said, "if we're going to be inconvenienced without heat and air."

Margaret Anne Murphey of the TSO, which is contracted to provide the music for Long's "Nutcracker," said the group would have to relocate concerts set for Oct. 9 and Nov. 20 if the school board decides to replace the system this year rather than wait until next May.

"My good sense tells me that we need to go on and do it," she said. "But, I would like to think there's some way that we could go on and do it and have the stage by December."

Vinson said delaying the repairs until next year would likely result in very uncomfortable conditions inside the building during the interim.

"The sad fact is we simply cannot guarantee that it's going to be working even as good as it is now," Vinson said of delaying replacing the system.

Schaefer said he received 81 phone calls in a three-hour span complaining about the heat from individuals who attended the April 21 concert by the National Symphony Orchestra.

Vinson and Schaefer said another meeting with the Cultural Alliance members will be scheduled after the proposed time line is completed by the engineer in the next few weeks.

"I've just got to hope and pray at this point that they can get me in there," Long said of reopening the auditorium in time for her group to rehearse beginning Dec. 1. "I really hate to think of the alternatives because it makes me sick to my stomach."

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