Sulphur Springs school trustees and county commissioners Friday discussed the potential of the school district pouring at least $2 million into auditorium repairs at Hopkins County Regional Civic Center in exchange for a 25-year lease agreement which, aside from 15 agreed upon days allotted to both entities, would make the school district responsible for upkeep and scheduling of the facility.
A few years ago, both entities gathered to discuss the possibility of Sulphur Springs Independent School District purchasing the auditorium from Hopkins County, but those talks stalled — not in small part due to a lack of consensus on what “common areas” would be.
The issue was raised again recently, with attorneys for both SSISD and the county working earnestly since at least December to formulate a document for the new proposal not for ownership but a long-term lease-use agreement. Discussions have gone back and forth between county and school officials and their respective attorneys.
On Friday, commissioners (minus Mike Odell who was unable to attend), attorneys, civic center staff and board representatives, and the school board met in SSISD Administration Building for a two hour workshop to go over some of the finer points of a draft agreement and discuss any concerns or sticking points. No formal decision could be made at the conclusion of the session, because it was a work session, but the information shared will be used by attorneys to draft what potentially could be a document acceptable to both school and county officials.
Essentially, SSISD is proposing spending $2-3 million to upgrade and make repairs to the auditorium. The auditorium would remain the property of Hopkins County. The school district then would have a lease agreement with the expense prorated as their monthly payments for 25 years. The district anticipates construction would take about 18 months. The county has essentially agreed to clear the auditorium’s schedule from July through mid-November for intensive work.
The district would then be responsible for scheduling of activities in the auditorium and upkeep during those years. The exception would be 15 traditional days each for SSISD and the county; these would be days each entity normally would reserve the facility. A committee composed of at least two members each from the county and school would meet quarterly to go over dates and topics related to the facility, with another individual designated should the group’s discussions and a tie-breaking vote be needed.
Any additional booking of the auditorium to a third party would be approved by the school, with 10 percent of the booking fee returned to the county and the rest to the school. And similarly, if the county rents out the Civic Center facility, the school district would get 10 percent of the booking fee, according to the document proposed Friday.
One commissioner asked if they’d have to pay a 10 percent fee to the school district if they rented the facility out for use during the county’s allotted 15 days.
Commissioner Wade Bartley also asked for clarification on the 10 percent payment, whether it includes proceeds. As proposed Friday, it would not include proceeds earned from the booking, just the general usage fee.
Agreement on rental rates would be determined by the joint committee.
County Judge Robert Newsom raised a concern that the auditorium be available should any of the county schools express interest in reserving it for graduation. The county school to most recently utilize the facility for graduation was Como-Pickton; this year the seniors have opted to have their graduation on their football field at the school. The facility could be reserved by the county to offer to other school districts.
Commissioner Danny Evans pointed out that the language needs to be clarified so that “if a county school says they would like to use it, we want it to be available.”
SSISD Superintendent Mike Lamb said that should not be an issue, as the auditorium should be free the traditional Friday and Saturday of graduations; SSHS wouldn’t need it as the auditorium isn’t big enough for an SSHS graduation.
Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker asked that the school district include a written statement in the document outlining SSISD’s vision for use of the auditorium as well as exhibits showing design.
The use of the “common areas” in the Civic Center facility was also discussed, these areas include the foyer leading into the auditorium, the restrooms and concessions/kitchen off of those.
Lamb said that retired Civic Center manager Pansy Bell pointed out during a previous walk-through of the Civic Center that should the county and school have events booked both in the auditorium and the exhibit hall or elsewhere in the facility, the county event could use the restrooms in the front part of the facility, leaving the restrooms and auditorium lobby at the back of the building for the school function.
He also noted that depending on what building regulations require, the district could possibly build a new entrance to the auditorium and new bathrooms, which could possibly eliminate the need for those amenities. However, occupancy laws and building regulations could require the use of any potential new addition and the old restrooms. Access to the restrooms just off the auditorium entrance would have to allowed, Lamb said.
One of the attorneys pointed out that the school district under a lease agreement would be responsible for utilities and upkeep, all repairs to the auditorium and agreed upon areas as if it were their own building during the 25-year contract lease.
The party responsible for use of the facility would be responsible for clean-up and any damages. For instance, if the county schedules the facility, the county would be responsible. If the school hosts and event, say a play or concert, in the auditorium, SSISD would be responsible.
Originally, the district and commissioners talked about starting the agreement, if reached, June 1. However, because of events scheduled through the end of June, the agreement would start July 1, with work starting as soon as possible thereafter to renovate the facility — including seating, lights and sound.
The managers for both sides of the facility, Newsom pointed out, will need to communicate very regularly, so that they know schedulings and needs.
The document would also contain termination provisions should either side not live up to the agreement or choose to pull out of the agreement for allowable reasons before the conclusion of the 25 years. For instance if 10 or 20 years in the future SSISD decides to build its own auditorium, provisions note the district can back out but will not be reimbursed for the initial construction expenses.
SSISD also asked to have in the lease the property from the driveway just off Connally Street behind the auditorium back to the school.
Charles Helm said moving items from behind the auditorium had been discussed and should not be an issue.
A document is expected to be prepared for review by June 4, giving both sides a few days to make any adjustments. The county then is expected to hold a special 6 p.m. meeting on June 9 at the courthouse to vote on the agreement. They then will travel to SSISD Administration Building, where school trustees would then convene at 7 p.m. to vote on the document. A brief break would be made to deal with that, then the regular June school board meeting would resume.
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