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Renovations will transform Civic Center Auditorium

The auditorium in the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center will be leased for the next 20 years by Sulphur Springs Independent School District. First thing on the agenda is a complete renovation — something SSISD Superintendant Michael Lamb is excited about. 

“Its going to be the Taj Mahal of a theater on a budget that cost a third of a new auditorium,” said Lamb. 

Lamb described the Civic Center as a three-part facility divided into an arena, a banquet room and an auditorium. SSISD originally owned the land that the county designated for the Civic Center in the mid-1970s. 

“Under the original agreement, we got to use the auditorium a certain number of days a year, but it is the county’s facility,” said Lamb. “When the auditorium was originally built [in 1978], it brought in a lot of talent but over time it has become a liability because it is not bringing in the money.” 

The dialogue started several years ago between Hopkins County and SSISD on selling the auditorium to the school. That scenario seemed to make little headway because the county wanted to make sure that it could still book events for the venue.

Conversation on renovations was also stuck in limbo. SSISD needed updated sound and lighting for its stage productions, but the funds were not available from the county to update the facility.

“It was a deadlocked situation,” said Lamb. 

SSISD started looking for alternatives. Building a new structure would be impossible. Lamb stated that to build a new auditorium would cost between $7 million and $10 million. 

“After trying several different options, we ended up agreeing to a 20-year lease,” said Lamb. “To upgrade the auditorium will cost approximately $2 million to $3 million.”

According to a new agreement, the renovation will the sole cost of the 20-year lease. Hopkins County gets to keep the auditorium, but SSISD in return has the facility it needs. 

“The biggest renovations will occur in June with construction taking around four to five months,” said Lamb. “We will shut down the auditorium for a complete remodel.”

The stage, seating, ceiling, sound booth, curtains, speakers and lighting will all be upgraded. A new sprinkler system will be added as well as other changes, such as multiple wheelchair accesible entries, to bring the auditorium up to code. 

Starting the first quarter of next year,, cosmetic changes will start to take place but will not disrupt the spring One Act Play schedule. A new prop room will be built to house building materials and props between performances. The roof on the auditorium will be upgraded as well as a new air conditioning unit. 

“We are going to unveil our product in January of next,” said Lamb. “At this point, we already have the reserve bond funds to cover the all the necessary upgrades.”

As for the seating, the auditorium will be cutting back from around 1,500 to 1,300 seats to house new ramps for wheelchair access to the stage. The ramps will also double as additional stage space much like long run-ways to both sides of the theater.   

“We are going to have a state-of-the-art-facility,” said Lamb. 

’Tis the season for fraud

With the holiday season in full swing, scam artists are calling Hopkins County residents and in some cases, showing up at their doors. 

Local resident Ruth Macy might have been a victim of a phone scam if she had not repeatedly questioned a man going by the name of Alex Cooper. 

“A lady named Pamela Watson called me and said I needed to call Alex Cooper on an important legal matter. She would not give me any more information,” said Macy.  “I called Alex Cooper at 202-470-0862. He did not answer the first few times I dialed his number.”

Cooper introduced himself as a representative of the Department of Legal Affairs of the United States Treasury. He hold Macy she owed $2,453 from her 2008 tax return and another $1,226 from a 2010 tax return. 

“Mr. Cooper told me there would be a warrant out for my arrest,” said Macy. “I told him that I have never received a letter from the IRS stating I owed that amount of money. He told me everyone says that.”

Cooper became more forceful and said the last notice came out on Nov. 3 and the authorities had been contacted. 

“I was pretty sure it was a scam because he sounded so threatening, then he started to talk about cash. He had a very heavy accent and was difficult to understand,” said Macy. “He told me to stay on the phone and immediately go to the bank and retrieve $1,226 to stop the warrant for my arrest being issued.”

Cooper said if they would be disconnected at anytime, the warrant would go into effect. He told Macy once they were at the bank, he would give her bank account information in order to wire the money.

“My daughter Julie is a retired San Diego deputy so I decided to call her, to make sure it was a scam,” said May. “ He started getting so abusive on the phone, when I questioned him. When I told him I would call him back, he threatened to send the sheriff to arrest me immediately.” 

May confirmed with her daughter that it was indeed a scam. 

Typing  the phone 202-470-0862 into Google.com reveals that dozens of people have commented that hey have received the same call from Watson and Cooper and some have lost thousands of dollars to the scam. 

In Hopkins County, sheriff’s department Sgt. Brad Cummings has dealt with numerous scams and wants everyone to be aware of phone scams as well as strangers showing up at the door. 

“People need to protect themselves. It is Christmas time and people might call saying they are from credit card companies and they need a bank account numbers to debit the fraudulent amount back into your bank account,” said Cummings. “Always be aware and never give any personal information over the phone.” 

Cummings said, that if someone is saying that a warrant is out for your arrest, get their phone number and name and check to see if it is the correct information by calling the sheriff’s department directly.

“We live in world of technology and some people use it for evil,” said Cummings.

Cummings said that in addition to phone scams, Hopkins County has also seen a fraudulent asphalt truck drivers’ ring. 

“They are telling people that they have left-over asphalt on a job and will pave a driveway for an extremely cheap amount. Then after the job is done, they will tell the home owner that it took a lot more time and resources than they expected,” said Cummings. “The original quote might be $2,000, but by the end of the job it is $8,000.”

Cummings said that once an oral agreement is made, it is up to the asphalt company to abide by the agreement. 

“This is a scam, and if anyone is approached about this deal we recommend that they say they are not interested and  to call the police department or sheriff’s department and give us the tip,” he explained. “That way, we can approach the company to see if they are a legitimate business.” 

Local schools report flu absences moderate

While some districts across the state report higher than normal rates of student absences due to sickness this week, all districts in Hopkins County and in Yantis said Wednesday they have no need to call off classes due to illness among students and staff.

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Mobile home fire limited to underside of structure

Firefighters’ quick response Tuesday night to a reported structure fire limited damages to a double-wide mobile home in Weaver. The underside of the home sustained minimal damage.

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Grand Jury issues 25 indictments against 15 people

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The Hopkins County Grand Jury during its Dec. 8 session signed about 25 indictments against at least 15 people, including four individuals who were each named in more than one offense.

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