After hundreds of teacher layoffs and deep budget cuts in the midst of the Great Recession, Hall County school officials said there was one thing they refused to cut: the arts.
Fast forward some 15 years and Johnson High School now has a $10.1 million performing arts center, and construction is well underway on a performing arts center at West Hall High, planned to open in August.
“I think we've done a very good job as far as supporting the arts,” said school board chairman Craig Herrington.
The $15.2 million price tag also includes campus-wide restroom and locker room renovations, and a new concessions area at the gym. The old theater is being converted into a video workspace and five additional classrooms.
The 31,000-square-foot theater will be able to seat 440 people, and it will also host plays and events for other schools in the area including West Hall Middle School. It will include a drama classroom and suites for band and chorus.
“During the Great Recession, we refused to reduce our fine arts programs,” Superintendent Will Schofield wrote in a letter to the editor in response to a reader who claimed that the arts are disappearing while the school board plans to spend $8 million on a meat processing center. “Our board of education has the option to spend fine arts allotments in other areas, but we don’t do this, because we believe in the transformational impact of fine arts.”
Schofield wrote that they have spent over $43 million on four performing arts centers, including centers at East Hall High and North Hall High. He wrote that they employ 100 arts teachers across its 37 schools and spend $8 to $9 million each year to pay their salaries. They have also allocated $2.82 million to expand the museum at DaVinci Academy, a program of choice at the Academies of Discovery at South Hall.
School board member Mark Pettitt also wrote a response letter. The West Hall High performing arts center is located in his district.
“Nearly 1,200 art courses are taught each day in 95% of your Hall County schools,” Pettitt wrote. “More than 16,000 students take art classes. Every middle and high school offers both band and chorus.”