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Fine Arts Center open set for Christmas

Jed Liedtke, second from left, Puetz Corporation’s job site superintendent for the fine arts center, points out the high ceiling in the main entrance behind the theater to Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves, left, Mitchell High School Principal Joe Childs, back, partially obscured, Mitchell High School Activities Director Cory Aadland, second from right, and Mark Puetz, right, of the Puetz Corporation on Tuesday morning in Mitchell. (Matt Gade/Republic)

Mitchell students are getting a large Christmas present this year, and it's in the shape of the 67,000-square-foot fine arts center.

According to Superintendent Joe Graves, the move-in date for the $15.3 million fine arts center is tentatively set for over Christmas break. This gives school officials a larger span of time to move into the building while students are not in class, Graves said.

Puetz Corporation broke ground in June 2015. Now, a year later, the facility is starting to look the part. Puetz Corporation site superintendent Jed Liedtke said crews are working on enclosing the building now. But inside the building, in the classroom wing, painting has started.

"We're working as hard and as fast as we possibly can right now," Liedtke said.

An average between 40 and 60 construction workers are on site each day, Liedtke said, but this varies depending on what project is being worked on.

For now, Liedtke said everything seems to be on schedule, but the weather can affect the process. In the last few weeks, high temperatures have affected the workers. When it gets hot, Liedtke said he has to make sure all of the workers have water, time off and air conditioning when necessary.

And it's not just heat. Rain can slow construction down, and strong winds can have an impact as well, Liedtke said.

"Mother Nature is something that is going to be there, that you're going to work with," he said.

Despite the weather, workers are hammering away to stay on schedule, and Mitchell residents can drive by and see the progress.

High ceilings and open space will greet visitors as they walk into the facility, which is mirrored. This means, according to Liedtke, everything "you see on one side, you see on the other."

Standing in the 1,200-seat theater, Liedtke explained the varying levels of seats, including a lower and upper balcony. And in the stage area, the ceiling is tall, allowing lots of room for riggings, cables and a catwalk. One space-saving feature of the theater draws the curtains upward as a flyaway, instead of to the side.

"It's hard to believe right now standing here looking at all of this open area, but everything from the top of that concrete all the way up, will be filled with lights and battens and everything else," Liedtke said.

Moving beyond the theater sits the classroom wing of the fine arts facility. Workers were busy working on painting the walls, forming a space that looks nearly ready to be a classroom. Liedtke said soon, windows and framework will begin in this area.

With Christmas break more than six months away, there is still a lot of work to be completed on the fine arts center, but Graves said people are getting excited, and continuously asking him when the multimillion dollar project will be completed.

Graves said there will be a grand opening ceremony for the facility and a committee has already been selected. Details, including a date, is still unknown at this point.

When construction started, Graves said teachers who would be serving in the classroom area were brought to the area. He said the teachers advised him and other officials from the beginning of what they would like to see in the new digs.

Graves said both band and choir wanted bigger space, more practice rooms, more storage room, but also good acoustics. And Liedtke delivered. Liedtke said the entire space, including each classroom and practice space, is insulated to allow sound resonating through.

Right now, the high school only features two practice rooms, and the new facility will have eight.

Although the band and choir have much more space to practice in, the most anticipated feature in the facility is the theater, Graves said. And he's excited for the opportunities it represents.

"Really, giving both our marching and concert bands, show choir and choirs a venue that matches the ability and skills they already demonstrate, is huge," Graves said.

The theater can seat 1,200, and Graves said it will give the school district the ability to bring in performances, competitions and other events it couldn't in the past.

The facility in Mitchell will be among some of the largest theaters and venues in the states, and potentially one of the largest on a high school level.

For Liedtke and his crew, this is not their first building of this size. They've constructed buildings both larger and taller than the Mitchell fine arts center, but each of them has it's own characteristics.

"You really can't compare one building to the next ..." Liedtke said. "Just like kids, you can't compare one kid to the other."