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Performing arts centers built with more than just students in mind

Benson and New London-Spicer school districts added new performing arts centers to address the need for a sustainable way for their students to perform, and also for their communities' needs for an event space.

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The catwalks above the New London-Spicer performing arts center provide unique opportunities to enhance performances during a show. Tim Speier / West Central Tribune
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As more and more people look to leave their houses, the Benson and New London-Spicer communities hope to bring those who are eager for entertainment into their performing arts centers.

After both school districts found themselves without a sustainable way for their students to perform or for their districts to host events, they proposed buildings that would not only suit the needs of their students but also the needs of their communities.

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The New London-Spicer School District, not having an auditorium at the school, was using its gym and a community theater, the Little Theatre in New London , for performances and gatherings. In 1993, the idea of building a performing arts center was conceived.

Although it took some time and a few changes to the proposals, the center was completed and first used during the 2017-2018 school year.

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Community members were given the opportunity to sponsor a seat inside New London-Spicer’s performing arts center. Tim Speier / West Central Tribune

In 2017, the Benson School District found itself in limbo, needing to make a choice after the auditorium roof collapsed — whether to repair the outdated auditorium or build a new one.

Benson Superintendent Dennis Laumeyer spoke about how the 1928-vintage auditorium lacked many of the essentials the district wanted for its students and the community.

“There was a need for the school to have something,” said Laumeyer, “but it was definitely community-driven, and community-supported.”

Both districts heard from and worked with their communities to not only provide a space that students would be proud to perform on, but also one that could be utilized by the community.

The New London-Spicer Performing Arts Center has hosted community meetings, banquets and political roundtables, said Paula Prill, the facility manager and an NLS teacher.

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“Our rental rates are very, very reasonable,” said Prill, “which is intentional to cater to the community.”

Laumeyer said Benson, besides the proms, concerts and graduations that you would expect to see in a high school, has hosted a local company’s shareholders meeting. The county also uses the space for training.

NLS has also offered its lobby area for smaller gatherings.

“In addition to the inside auditorium, where there's all the seats, there's a lobby area that can accommodate about 100 people,” Prill said.” So we've had a lot of art showings there.”

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Constructed prior to the pandemic, Benson’s performing arts center was designed for the future with its multi-camera streaming system. With this already installed, there were only minor adjustments needed to stream its events. Tim Speier / West Central Tribune

Each facility is able to seat well over 600 people.

“We're looking at putting together packages each year and then people can buy memberships and things like that,” Laumeyer said. “So we have a performing arts center advisory group that's working with our (performing arts center) manager and our community (education) director to help with who should come in, and what ideas they have, and who do people want to see.”

Although both facilities are connected to and funded by the school districts, they were designed to provide a space for the community as well as being there for the students well into the future.

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“We were real conscious about making sure the community understood that this performing arts center was not just for kids at school,” Prill said. “It was for the entire community.”

This story was originally published in the West Central Tribune's IMPACT edition on Oct. 23, 2021. More stories in this section can be found at https://issuu.com/westcentraltribune/docs/impact_2021

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With wide-open, spacious gathering areas outside the performing arts centers (Benson pictured), both the Benson and New London-Spicer facilities are able to accommodate a wide array of events. Tim Speier / West Central Tribune

Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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