Officials OK Bel Air High auditorium expansion



A performing arts center for Harford County cleared its last hurdle yesterday when the county Board of Education unanimously approved an expansion of the auditorium for the new Bel Air High School.

Town and county officials have agreed to share the $2.5 million cost, over the next three years, to add 260 seats that will bring the auditorium's seating capacity to 800.

When the $75 million school opens in 2009, student programs will have priority use of the auditorium, and the town will be able to schedule several dates a year for traveling shows as well as groups such as the Bel Air Community Band and Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra.

"All the community groups will pay the required fees for using the auditorium," said Bel Air Mayor Terry O. Hanley. "We are simply asking to provide a venue for these groups."

If any funds remain from the estimated cost, Hanley asked that the money be used to enhance lighting and sound equipment.

"This is an excellent investment in the students and in the future of the community," said Matt Frieswyk, a 2005 Bel Air High graduate and former vice president of its drama club. "Arts are important and an auditorium is part of any arts community."

The board expects to approve the final building specifications for the high school at its Aug. 14 meeting. The changes to the auditorium will increase the school's footprint by about 15 feet and will have no impact on classroom space.

"We are not taking square footage away from any educational space," said Kathleen Sanner, school system director of planning and construction.

The last-minute haggling over the size of the auditorium threatened to delay construction of the school.

Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas asked that officials and residents "all collectively look into the future instead of reacting when a project is at hand.

"Review our long-range plan and let's talk ahead of time, instead of at the 11th hour," she said.

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