Portsmouth High auditorium upgrades begin next week

Nonprofit making major fund-raising push

By Jim McGaw
Posted 6/19/19

PORTSMOUTH — “It’s a class battle,” as Margie Brennan puts it.

Ms. Brennan, a member of the nonprofit Kate Grana Music and Arts Association (KGMAA), which is leading …

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Portsmouth High auditorium upgrades begin next week

Nonprofit making major fund-raising push


PORTSMOUTH — “It’s a class battle,” as Margie Brennan puts it.

Ms. Brennan, a member of the nonprofit Kate Grana Music and Arts Association (KGMAA), which is leading efforts for major renovations to the Portsmouth High School auditorium, said past and present students of PHS have been challenging each other to “purchase” new chairs for the auditorium during a final fund-raising push. 

In a recent Facebook post, Debbi Pappas of the Class of 1975 challenged other classes to donate toward the chairs after her classmates pledged $500. That’s good enough to purchase “Class of 1975” nameplates for two chairs. (Donation levels for chairs range from $250 to $4,500, depending on where the new seats will be located in the auditorium.)

Shortly afterward, Laurie Spaner challenged her fellow Class of 1985 members to surpass that amount, which they did.

“As of now, we have raised $8,000 since last Tuesday because of (the class challenge),” Ms. Brennan said, who stressed that if someone wants to donate on behalf of a class, they must point that out in their notes.

But more money is still needed for phase one of the project, which begins next week with the removal of the old wooden chairs, along with major upgrades to the room’s lighting and sound system. Ms. Brennan said KGMAA hopes to raise about $20,000 more to make the necessary improvements a reality. 

The 50-plus-year-old auditorium is being transformed into a state-of-the-art community hub for drama and music in memory of Kate Grana, the beloved music teacher, choral director and vocal coach who died in May 2016. 

If you want to “buy” a brand-new, red cushioned seat for the auditorium, you still have time. To ensure that your chair’s nameplate (or a wall plaque, if you’re a big spender) will be ready in time for the grand opening of the refurbished room that’s slated for around the third week of September, you’ll need to make your donation by June 30 to KGMAA.

You may still donate toward a chair or plaque after June 30, but doing so may push the installation past the date of the grand opening, Ms. Brennan said.

“We can guarantee their nameplate will be on the chair for the grand opening if we get it by June 30. Same with the plaques,” she said.

The wall plaques are offered for donations of $5,000 (“silver”), $10,000 (“bronze”) or $25,000 (“gold”). A local family has donated $25,000, while the private foundation The Apple Pickers has donated $5,000, Ms. Brennan said.

Plenty of chairs left

“We have about 150 sold, and we have 500 total,” she said of the new chairs. “In recognition of your donation, you will be honored with a nameplate.”

Each plate will have three lines of 18 character each (including spaces), for a total of 54 characters. Some parents are putting their child’s name and graduation year on a chair, while others are using the plates to memorialize residents who are well known in the community.

Each chair will have plastic arm rests and fabric seats protected with Scotchgard to ward off vandals, and the aisle seats will be lighted. “The kids are very much territorial about (the seats), which is great,” said Ms. Brennan.

Contractors will begin removing the old chairs beginning June 24, and if you’ve got a twinge of nostalgia, you may want to look into grabbing one or two for yourself.

“A lot of people have made comments that they’re interested,” said Ms. Brennan, noting that one local resident said he wants a couple to put in his yard. Neither KGMAA nor the district can sell the old chairs due to liability reasons, but they may be available as giveaways — depending on whether they can be neatly disassembled from one another.

Over $300,000 raised

As of last week, KGMAA had raised about $333,000 through grants or private donations, which includes a $225,000 grant from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation.

As for the KGMAA’s goal? “We were hoping to go in the high end of $400,000 for a nice buffer. However, I’ve just made a push for $20,000 more to get exactly what we need to finish phase one,” said Ms. Brennan.

Scott Stipetic of Barbizon Lighting, the project’s lighting and sound consultant (Barbizon programmed the lights on the new Sakonnet River Bridge), said other “supplemental” purchases will need to be made, including two new spotlights.

“Those back there are very dull, especially compared to when all the new fixtures come in and they’re about three times the brightness,” Mr. Stipetic said. “This is 1940s technology upgraded to 1970s lamps, and now we’re putting in 2015-quality fixtures that are all LED. It goes from 750 watts down to 155 watts.”

Although Ms. Brennan couldn’t say for sure what phase two will entail until the school district’s strategic plan is approved, “the hopes for stage two are the air conditioning and the music suites, because those need to be done,” she said.

Ms. Brennan is excited to see work finally start on the auditorium.

“It’s happening so fast. Without the grant, we would just be securing money for the chairs for next year. And here we are, a year and a half after I submitted the grant. It’s surreal. Poor Matt Murphy’s going to be stuck with me this summer,” she said, referring to the school district's facilities manager.

For more information or to make a donation toward the renovations, visit www.kgmaa.org.

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