Stage forward

Phillips Middle School auditorium to be restored

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
The Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association is making plans to renovate the old Phillips Middle School Auditorium. The public can tour it and help make donations during the groups annual meeting on Feb. 20. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for a social and the meeting is at 6:15.

When the former Phillips Middle School was converted into apartments, a few things were left out for the tenants — there’s even a room to bathe their dogs.

The conversion into apartments was completed in early 2019, about five years after its owners began the remodel.

The one space that was left alone, just as they found it when they began work, is the old auditorium.

It’s all there: seats, curtains, lights, the knobs on the railings to keep students from sliding on them, the thick ropes tied to pegs that held up banks of lights and scenery, beautiful light fixtures in the ceiling and a piano or two.

The ghosts of stage fright and forgotten Christmas play lines linger.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
After Phillips Middle School was renovated into apartments, the old auditorium remains in place inside the structure. The Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association is planning to renovate and restore the space for the public to use.

On Thursday, the public is invited by the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association to come view the auditorium and learn about their plans to restore and renovate the space.

Shelly Bottorff, FDFAA executive director, said the renovation will help meet a need identified in a survey the group conducted 18 months ago.

“We asked,” she said. “What types of performance spaces do we need?”

“The No. 1 answer was an auditorium not affiliated with a school,” she said. “No. 2was a live music venue. No. 3 was rehearsal space.”

Bottorff is quick to stress that the auditorium spaces currently available are excellent venues. The problem is that they’re usually in use. For example, a school’s auditorium is frequently used for classes, the school’s own theater program or other events. An independent group that wants to put on a show there will only have a limited time to set up, rehearse and prop. Often, their rehearsals take place in smaller spaces. Working on a full sized stage would offer them the advantage of working in roughly the same sized space.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
As many a student in the past found out the hard way, sliding down the railings was an activity discouraged by various knobs embedded in the railings.

“We don’t want to take anything from any other venue,” she said. “We only want to fill a gap.”

The auditorium is considered a mid-sized venue. Bottorff said there are 612 seats on the main floor. The balcony above would not be kept in use.

Bottorff said the project is a good partnership between the FDFAA, the developer and the community.

“We felt this would make a good partnership,” she said.

She hopes the public will attend and see what it looks like now and then come visit when the renovations are complete.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Ropes used to lower and raise backdrops and other items onstage remain tied against one of the walls backstage.

“Come see the space, see where it is now,” she said. “You don’t have to be an art lover to appreciate this space.”

The cost of the renovation is about $150,000, she said.

Donations will be accepted during the tour which will also feature a silent auction of local artwork, music and refreshments. The doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the annual meeting of the FDFAA starts at 6:15 p.m., which will highlight the groups accomplishments during 2019.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
The front of the stage once housed a row of lights. All that remains today are empty ceramic sockets and dusty reflectors.


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