St. Stephen – Students and staff at St. Stephen Middle School (SSMS) have reached their goal, and by this fall their auditorium will be filled with brand new seats that have been purchased by various service groups, members of the community, and the J.T. Clark Family Foundation. Principal Bronwyn Tanner said SSMS initially launched its fundraising for the theatre renovations two years ago, and then launched a special challenge on New Brunswick Day last year. This challenge was a matching challenge that involved the help of the J.T. Clark Family Foundation, based out of Saint Andrews and Fredericton.
SSMS began selling chairs almost immediately, but not as quickly as they would have preferred. In fact, Tanner said sales were a bit slow in the beginning, but she knew they were going to get there, especially with the help of the matching challenge.
“We knew we had 553 chairs to sell,” said Tanner. “We put in an initial application, and from there the conversation started. We went with the expertise of the foundation about the best way to raise funds. The matching challenge was then brought on board.”
The matching challenge was launched on March 1 of this year, and the school had goals to reach. If they reached each goal, the J.T. Clark Family Foundation would match the number of chairs purchased. At this point, they had only sold four chairs, but they knew it was going to happen. It took a few weeks, but the money began to roll in. Many service groups, including the Rotary Club, the Lions, and the Lionettes purchased seats, along with community organizations, Legion members, churches, local businesses, and residents. They also received a grant from the Fundy Community Foundation.
“It was a bit slow to start, but we all knew it was going to happen,” said Tanner. “The support was overwhelming. Another big help was through social media. Anne Dempsey, a teacher at our school, put a notice on a local Facebook buy and sell page, and it just exploded.”
Tanner said they also had many former grad classes purchasing seats. It began with one class from the 1980s, and that class challenged other grad classes to purchase seats for the school auditorium.
“The money just started pouring in,” said Tanner.
In addition to new seats, there have been many renovations taking place at the auditorium. They are installing a wheelchair accessible washroom, and have upgraded the existing washrooms. They have replaced the curtains and acoustic panels, and have upgraded the theatre technology. There are also plans to construct an outdoor ramp for accessibility, as currently there are only stairs leading to the theatre from outside of the building. Tanner said the deconstruction began last December, and that the estimated cost for the entire project was approximately $410,000.
Superintendent Zoe Watson said the theatre was in desperate need of upgrading, and the seats were in much need of repair. She calls this renovation, and the new seats, a “very happy story” that is not only good for the school, but also good for the community as a whole. The theatre will be available to the community, and the St. Croix Theatre Company plans to hold its performances there.
“These spaces become a hub of the community,” said Watson.
The construction crew told Tanner they expect everything to be ready in time for the kids going back to school next month. Once the chairs are in place with the plaques on the arms, there will be a grand opening of the newly-renovated theatre. Tanner said she expects that to take place sometime in the fall. The St. Croix Theatre Company is planning their first performance in the theatre for November.