YEARS IN THE MAKING: Long-awaited Straughn School Auditorium set to open in February

Published 5:10 pm Monday, January 22, 2024

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Students of Straughn Elementary, Middle, and High School will soon have a new facility for fine arts, award ceremonies, and other programs as construction nears completion on the Straughn School Auditorium.

Contracted by Whaley Construction, work began on the $8.2 million building in the summer of 2022. The auditorium, which will seat approximately 900 with wall-to-wall seating, features a large stage with a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system. Dressing rooms for theatre productions and three classrooms will also be located inside the facility.

“Mr. Driver and our board have been planning an auditorium on our campus for a while and knew we needed it. They were able to get to a financial point to make it happen. We are thankful for them and their work in planning and preparing for it because it was years in the making. It’s not something that happened overnight but was more about getting it done when the time was right. We are tentatively scheduled to open the auditorium the third or fourth week of February and plan to have an open house for the community,” Straughn High School Principal Matt Cobb said.

Driver met with all three principals a year and a half ago during the early planning stages.

“He had plans drawn up that were not finalized and brought us in on some thoughts for what he thought we needed. They made adjustments from there and started construction. They are finalizing everything from the seating to the stage, sound, and lighting. After that, it should be ready to go. We are also hopeful to host our county schools’ theatre production featuring students in our school system here in April,” he said.

The annual Straughn High School Beauty Pageant is the first event tentatively planned to be held inside the auditorium, which would be on Saturday, March 9.

“We are excited about our new auditorium. Essentially, there will be two buildings that have been joined together. The auditorium has about 900 seats and one of the biggest stages I’ve ever seen. The building connected to it is a storm shelter with three areas inside. We will have a new, larger band hall with a lot of storage, a string band classroom and storage for their equipment, and a drama classroom,” Cobb said.

The gymnasium is currently used for on-campus recognition events and awards days. Graduation ceremonies will also be held in the new auditorium and are held each May.

“We used to have to put out a stage when we recognize our students’ achievements but are excited to now hold those events in the new auditorium. We look forward to holding graduation and not having to worry about bringing out a stage this year. The elementary and middle schools will also be able to use it for assemblies and other awards programs. We will coordinate with the elementary and middle school principals on their needs. They picked a really good location for it on our campus, which gives all of us easy access to it,” Cobb said.

School officials said they have had a good experience working with the Whaley Construction crew. In addition to the educational aspect of the building, it can also be used as a storm shelter during inclement weather.

“They have been really easy to work with. It has not been a difficult process and has not interfered with school. We have not had any real issues. The most difficult thing was getting down to the little baseball field to cut the grass, and there was not anything to that. We are thankful not to have had any hindrances.

“With the storm shelter, there are large storm doors, and the concrete walls were brought in using trucks and welded together. If we are ever in a situation with a threat of tornadoes or other severe weather and have time to vacate to the building, it will be a very safe place for us to go,” Cobb said.

In addition to productions involving the county’s students, the auditorium will be home to the new band hall, string band, and drama club.

“Our string band will be able to perform concerts and their equipment will be with them in their classroom,” he said. “They have a class period during school hours but have practices after school once or twice a week in the evening hours. The drama club will have dressing rooms for its productions. The new band hall is really nice and will have office space and storage for their uniforms. Carpet was placed in the band hall and string band rooms to help with acoustics. They are steadily putting seats in and we are excited to have the space for all of our students. We are really thankful to Mr. Driver and the board for making this happen.”

SMS Principal Cassandra Anderson, SES Principal Bettye Anne Older, and Driver each said they look forward to the completion of the auditorium.

“I am thrilled about the latest addition to Straughn Nation: the new Straughn School Auditorium. This much-needed facility brings great joy to the Straughn family. Our students now have the perfect venue to host performances and events, alleviating concerns about accommodating large groups. I express gratitude to Superintendent Driver and the Covington County Board of Education for their efforts in fulfilling this essential need,” Anderson said.

“We are very excited about our new school auditorium on campus. This establishment will offer our students several opportunities and allow them to participate in extracurricular activities they are passionate about. We look forward to holding school functions and other events and thank Superintendent Driver and our school board for making this facility possible. It will be an asset to our schools and the Straughn community,” Older said.

“We are very excited to be nearing completion of the auditorium at Straughn. All three of our Straughn schools are already planning activities for the spring and for end-of-school events. This addition to the Straughn campus will also provide a home to a growing arts program. We plan to have an open house at a date to be announced in February for our community to visit the new facility. We look forward to the project’s completion and the facility being used by our students,” Driver said.