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.