April 28, 2017 08:00 PM
The first step inside Hibbing High School's auditorium, you don't feel like you're in a high school at all.
It's a piece of history. The school was built in the 1920s, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An auditorium restoration set to begin in June has been in the planning phase for around two years because historians have to approve the work.
"You don't get to do these kinds of projects very often, so when we set out to do it, we were going to do it right, do it once, and make sure that it honored the historic preservation," Hibbing School Board member Mitch Vincent said.
In total, it will cost $3.15 million. The committee already has $2.55 million set aside. On Monday, they are launching a public fundraising campaign. They hope to raise between $200,000-300,000 from that, which will be matched to make up the remaining about $500,000 needed.
Jack Croswell, who joined the fundraising committee last year, said he hopes to have most of the money raised by the end of the summer. He said he joined the effort in part because he had three kids graduate from the high school, but he also sees the uniqueness in the place's beginnings.
"I'm in the mining industry. I appreciate those that came before us," Croswell said. "This is a symbol of how great the mining industry and iron ore business was in the 1910s and '20s when the school was designed and put together."
This summer, in the first phase of the restoration, the committee plans to have the original stage rigging replaced, install new stage lighting and new control panel, upgrade the sound system and improve acoustics with a performance shell and risers.
Alexander Jensen, a senior, said he has been involved with theatre for six years and also volunteers on the tech crew.
"We need new lights and sound system," Jensen said. "Lights and sound are very difficult to maneuver because we are dealing with a 100-year-old wiring system."
He also said some elements of the rigging are so heavy, they require two people.
"Safety is the biggest priority in Drama Club," Jensen said.
The second phase runs from June-October 2018 and will involve removing all of the seats for refurbishing, re-doing the floors and cleaning, painting and restoring the murals and décor on the walls and ceiling. They'll also improve ADA accessibility in the auditorium.
Vincent said he's heard plenty of community support but people are understandably protective too. He said they don't want any of the history changed, and neither does the committee.
"Why would you change anything about this place?" Vincent asked. "It's just beautiful, and it's exciting and ornate and awe-inspiring, truly, to think that this is in a high school."
Jensen said some of the best memories from his high school years are set in the theatre.
"It's always been a happy place for me," Jensen said. "I'm hearing impaired and deaf and hard of hearing, and it's really, it's a gorgeous place to be. And it's very quiet, and there's a lot of memories put on stage."
Vincent, a 1987 graduate, has his own.
"As a freshman, you start up in the balcony with your assigned seat. As you become a sophomore and junior, you get closer and closer to the stage," Vincent said. "I remember that was kind of a big deal back in the day."
Making sure future classes have those same opportunities is motivation. Croswell sees future employees too.
"Going forward for the mining industry, there's still a lot of mining to be done. And they need people to fill those jobs, educated people, and this room and this school is a big part of that," Croswell said.
"I guess you don't understand at that age what's going on and what kind of a place you're sitting in," Vincent said. "But ... every time I set foot in here, it inspires me and awes me even more so than the last time I came."
It's clear the auditorium is more than a performance space.
"Sometimes, after a show is done, I just sit down, look out in the audience and just imagine how many shows I went through," Jensen said.
Folks wishing to donate to the restoration efforts can do that online or can mail checks.
Updated: April 28, 2017 08:00 PM
Created: April 28, 2017 07:56 PM
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