11/12/12 — Fremont school auditorium renovated

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Fremont school auditorium renovated

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 12, 2012 1:46 PM

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Principal Sheila Wolfe looks over an old seat back from the school auditorium, which dates back to 1923.

FREMONT-- At a school where arts takes center stage, some things can be left up to the imagination.

But it's important to have a place for the audience to sit and watch the performance.

When Sheila Wolfe became principal at Fremont STARS Elementary School in 2008, she couldn't help but notice many of the auditorium seats were broken.

One of the few schools in the district with an auditorium, student performances are part of the school's mission.

STARS, she explained, stands for "successful, tenacious, accomplished, resourceful seekers" of knowledge.

The school features three productions a year -- the first one traditionally presented by fourth and fifth grade, then one in January by second and third grade and in April, kindergarten and first grade.

Five years ago, a project began to renovate the 1923 auditorium with new seating after a community member, Jerry West, had the desire to have the chairs fixed. His wife, Audrey, and a former classmate, Jenny Morris, coordinated the project.

"We tried to come together and figure out (how)," Mrs. Wolfe said. "I had made a promise to Mrs. West when her husband passed (in 2010) we would have this renovated."

The question became how to fund such an effort, which was estimated to cost $87,000.

"We went on a mission -- let's sell chairs and see where we get with it," the principal said. "The community raised $30,000."

Anticipating it would take awhile to raise the remainder, Mrs. Wolfe said she enlisted the support of the district's central office.

"We asked if the county office could front the money to us and we pay them in allotments as we get the monies," she said.

The effort paid off, she said, as the school board approved backing the entire project.

"They agreed to finance this so the $30,000 (collected) will be put back into the general instructional use for students," she said. "We're going to continue to offer up chairs in memory or in honor of, and put the names on a plaque and on the backs of the chairs."

Now that the project "near and dear to my heart" has come to fruition, Mrs. Wolfe said it ended up revamping the school's entire program.

"Originally we had 435 seats," she explained. "We lost a few because we made the seats wider. We lost about 25 chairs out of it.

"And then they painted our whole building last year and that included the auditorium, curtains that had never been cleaned since 1924, they sanded the bare wood and put in all new lighting. All of our additional stage lighting and spotlights and sound system have been paid for through grant money and additionally, other donors from the community."

Beyond replacing seats on the ground floor and the balcony, though, it was about preserving some of the historical ambiance, keeping the standards in line with the original 1923 version.

"We didn't want to let go of the history," Mrs. Wolfe said. "All of the chair backs and bottoms, we got new wood but the frame structure, we just had them refabricated."

Something else occurred to the principal, as she considered future fundraising options.

Another opportunity to preserve history, while not letting good resources go to waste, presented itself.

"I asked for the backs of the chairs back," she said, explaining that the original seats had already been carted away. It was a long-shot, she said, but turned out they had not been destroyed.

"With Fremont being known for its daffodils and annual Daffodil Festival, we will paint daffodils on the backs of the historical, original chairs and sell them at the Daffodil Festival."

Thanks to the quick-thinking principal, 435 chair backs will be recycled.

"We have some ladies in the community and my father -- Walter Kantenwein, retired military, also a woodworker -- will paint them," she said. "They're doing that as a give-back."

The spruced-up auditorium was officially unveiled Friday night in conjunction with the school's fourth- and fifth-grade production of "Bugsy Malone." A reception followed and donors were also recognized.

And while everyone marveled at the bright new surroundings, Mrs. West couldn't help but reflect on one poignant note.

"I'm just pleased to see Jerry's dream finally fulfilled," she said.