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Hibbing auditorium to be restored

Plaster and paint will be repaired during the Hibbing High School auditorium restoration project. The nearly 100-year-old auditorium is on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo courtesy of Hibbing school district)1 / 4
All 1,763 seats will receive new fabric during a $3.1 million restoration of Hibbing High School's auditorium. The fabric was last replaced in the mid-1960s. (Photo courtesy of Hibbing school district)2 / 4
A new shell will improve acoustics on the Hibbing High School auditorium stage for the band, choir and visiting performers. The shell is a part of the high school's auditorium restoration project. (Photo courtesy of the Hibbing school district)3 / 4
Plaster and paint will be repaired during the Hibbing High School auditorium restoration project. The nearly 100-year-old auditorium is on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo courtesy of Hibbing school district)4 / 4

Bob Dylan, Rudy Perpich and John F. Kennedy are counted among the well-known people who have taken the stage at Hibbing High School’s auditorium. But in its everyday use, the nearly century-old auditorium provides a venue for both students and the community.

The Hibbing school district is slated to begin a renovation of its auditorium, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, to return it to its original luster and is turning to the community for support.

The district said it is excited to combine a school renovation project with the community “to produce a final project we hope will allow us to serve our community and our students for generations to come,” said Joe Arthurs, the district’s buildings and grounds director.

The school district will be undertaking the $3.1 million, two-phase project to refurbish and modernize the auditorium beginning in June. The district has raised $2.5 million so far through a legislative grant, district capital funding, sales of long-term facility maintenance bonds and a gift from the Dr. Ben Owens Family Foundation, said Scott Wirtanen, the district’s business manager.

The district began a fundraising campaign on May 1 to secure the remaining $600,000 and hopes to raise between $200,000 and $300,000 in order to receive matching grants, Wirtanen said. The district received a $25,000 gift from the Hibbing Foundation to kick off the campaign and it hopes to reach its fundraising goal by Aug. 1.

“We’re very excited with the response so far and we’ve just begun. We have a great community representation on our committee and they are doing their legwork as we speak. We’re very excited about restoring this auditorium to its original beauty,” Wirtanen said.

When project planning began, the restoration was limited to only the auditorium’s seats — a project the district has been eyeing for nearly a decade. But the project grew after a community working group decided that the project should encompass all the needed work in the auditorium in an effort to “do it once, do it right,” Arthurs said. That additional work includes cleaning the hand-painted murals for the first time since the auditorium was built.

The school district sought advice from the same company that restored the State Capitol on how to restore “a unique facility” like the auditorium, Arthurs said. The auditorium’s placement on the historic places registry meant that project planning had to go through more hoops than a normal building project — including a complete review of all of the construction documents, processes and specifications. They’ve ensured that all of the details of the project match the historic integrity of the auditorium, he said.

“That’s a very comprehensive process and we’re glad to go through it. We are so fortunate to be gifted such a wonderful facility and our goal is to preserve that long into the future. It’s served 100 years worth of students and community members thus far and our goal is to have that continue, to do another 100 years,” Arthurs said.

He pointed out that all of the auditorium’s woodwork is original and has never needed to be resurfaced or refinished because it’s not carved up by students.

“That’s quite a tribute to not only the students of our school, but I always say the parents of those students in the school who remind everyone that that facility is unique and special and (students) need to care for it as much as when they were in school. It seems to be handed down from generation to generation as they care for it,” Arthurs said.

The project’s first phase, which is scheduled to take place this summer, will focus on the stage area and improve the stage’s sound, lighting and rigging, Arthurs said. The auditorium’s sound system will be upgraded to provide better acoustics and projection equipment for multimedia presentations will be installed. The rigging — the rope-and-pulley system that lifts components such as lights and scenery above the stage — is the original system that was installed in 1920, Arthurs said. Installing a modern rigging system that meets today’s standards and is partly motorized will be safer to operate.

“Standards of today are quite different than they were 100 years ago in much of this equipment,” Arthurs said.

The second phase, taking place in 2018, will focus on the auditorium seating area. Fabric, which dates to the mid-1960s, will be replaced on all 1,773 seats in the auditorium. Wear and tear on the auditorium’s plaster also will be repaired and patched. The aisle lighting and seating hardware will be restored to its original luster and then put back into place, Arthurs said.

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