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OUR VIEW: Don’t leave public out of proposal for fine arts center

We’re excited to hear that the Mitchell Board of Education is moving ahead with preliminary plans to build a fine arts center on the high school campus.

There’s no doubt the facility would serve the high school better than the existing auditorium. That existing facility seats about 650 people, which is not even big enough for an assembly of the high school’s 800 students. The proposed new facility would seat about 1,200 in a performance hall and have extra room for choir, band and drama programs to practice.

But does the school district need a new fine arts center, and can the school district afford the projected $13.5 million cost? We would appreciate more discussion of those questions in open settings with more than a couple of days’ advance notice.

We know the district has fi ne musical and theatrical programs, but we also know those programs’ performances have fit quite nicely in the Corn Palace, which has more seats than either the existing or proposed fine arts centers. Will there be enough uses of the fine arts center’s performance hall to justify such a large expense? Or would the district be better off to simply build a new high school as planned around the year 2025, with fine arts rooms and practice areas included, but with performances still held at the Corn Palace?

It was stated at Monday’s Board of Education meeting that the project can be funded with capital outlay certificates without raising taxes. But it would also take 20 years to pay off. What other projects would the district have to set aside while it pays down such a large obligation? Are board members and the district’s residents and taxpayers willing to accept those tradeoffs?

What are the estimated annual operation costs of such a facility? Is the district ready to take on those added expenses?

As taxpayers in the Mitchell School District, we have a lot of questions about this project. It might behoove the school board to host a special meeting — or two or three — focused only on the fine arts center proposal, with a presentation and a chance for questions and answers.

It feels like the board and the superintendent are way ahead of the public on this one. That’s to be expected, since we’re sure a lot of behind-the-scenes work was necessary to put the plan together. It would now be wise to slow the train down a bit and let the public get on board before it goes running away down the tracks.