HED:Tupelo district reconsiders closing Civic Auditorium

AUTHOR: BOSEN

HED:Tupelo district reconsiders closing Civic Auditorium

By Christopher R.C. Bosen

Daily Journal

Replacement of the Tupelo Civic Auditorium’s rapidly deteriorating central air system may be delayed until next summer.

Installation of new equipment had been slated for this summer until citizens expressed concern about school district plans to shut down the 1,400-seat community arena for the rest of the year.

Members of the Cultural Alliance of Tupelo-Lee County and the Tupelo School Board will meet Monday with Tupelo school Superintendent Mike Vinson. They’ll discuss whether to close the venue and install a new system as soon as possible or wait until next summer.

Closing the venue this year could leave performing arts groups such as the Tupelo Ballet, Tupelo Symphony Orchestra and Tupelo Community Concerts without a place to perform until December or January.

Vinson said after considering the options Wednesday and Thursday, he could support delaying the work – pending the result of Monday’s meeting.

“Right now if I had to suggest anything it would be to try to do it next summer,” he said. “We certainly want to be sensitive to the needs of the community.”

Aging system

“We’re flexible, we can do it now or we can do it later,” Vinson said. “But the realization is there’s a great likelihood that the system will not be operative over the interim.”

Vinson said parts of the 30-year-old heating and air conditioning unit are held together with super glue.

The Tupelo School Board voted this week to direct a mechanical engineer to draw a set of mechanical specifications on replacing the system. The board’s decision to close the arena and do the work this year stunned Cultural Alliance members.

“The announcement in the paper just took us by surprise,” said Margaret Anne Murphey of the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra.

Alliance members met with Vinson in February to discuss concerns about the future of the Civic Auditorium prior to voters approving a $29.5 million bond issue. Those bonds will pay for renovating the auditorium’s central air system.

Alliance member Sharon Long of the Tupelo Ballet said she doesn’t want the replacement to interfere with the ballet’s December production of “Nutcracker.”

“I know that it’s critical for them to get this air conditioning done and I agree with them and I understand, but there’s got to be another alternative as far as time,” Long said. “We don’t have any other facility and that’s our problem.”

Vinson said work on removing the current system couldn’t begin until at least 30 to 60 days after May 19, when final Justice Department approval of the bond issue is due.

“You’re talking a fairly significant length of time to have a system constructed,” Vinson said. “Once we receive the equipment the installation time would be (an additional) 30 to 60 days.”

Planned events

Vinson said the district hasn’t officially reserved the Civic Auditorium for any performance dates for the remainder of the year but requests for certain dates have been received.

Murphey said TSO concerts at the Civic Auditorium are scheduled for Oct. 8, Nov. 20, and Jan. 19 and Long’s Tupelo Ballet season ticket brochures list the venue as the site for two performances of “Nutcracker” on Dec. 4.

Both women said other sites, such as the Tupelo Coliseum or Milam Auditorium, were not capable of accommodating their events.

“There is not another facility in Tupelo that can get all of my dancers on stage,” Long said. “There’s not another facility in Tupelo where I can put in lights and do all the technical things that we have to do to put on a production.”

If the school board opts at its May meeting to move forward with the replacement as soon as possible, Murphey said she doesn’t know what the symphony will do.

“I think we would probably have to cancel the (fall) concerts,” she said. “We are totally dependent on the Civic Auditorium until something else comes along.”