GALLERY: Officials, Straughn community celebrate opening of Straughn School Auditorium

Published 1:00 pm Wednesday, April 10, 2024

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The Covington County Board of Education joined school officials and Straughn community members for a ribbon cutting and grand opening of the Straughn School Auditorium on Tuesday, April 9.

The board approved the solicitation of bids for the auditorium in February 2022. Contracted by Whaley Construction, work began on the $8.2 million facility in the summer of that year. The auditorium, which will seat approximately 906 with wall-to-wall seating, features a large stage with a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system. Dressing rooms for theater productions and classrooms for band, string band, and drama are also located inside the facility.

“This has been in the works for quite some time, and several people had a hand in helping make this happen. It will be a special addition here at Straughn that has been needed for a long, long time. To have this facility to serve the three schools here at Straughn is something special, and it will serve this community and schools well for many years to come,” Covington County Schools Superintendent Shannon Driver said.

Straughn has seen a substantial growth in its arts programs in recent years.

“We have seen an explosion in the arts that will take advantage of this building. There is a big production going on next weekend as well as new homes for the string band and marching band. The facility will also serve as a sizable storm shelter and hold 800 to 900 people. The shelter will really complement and add to the facility and hopefully, it will continue to enhance the opportunities for students, which is what we are all about. We have seen this foundation laid over the past few years. The saying ‘If you build it, they will come,’ applies in this case, but students in the arts are already here. This facility will serve as a functional place for all three schools to host their activities,” Driver added.

Straughn High School will conduct graduation in the auditorium on Thursday, May 23, at 7:30 p.m.

“This facility will provide a great advantage and give the public an opportunity to sit in a comfortable, air-conditioned place and enjoy the events taking place. I would like it to be used all the time and as much as possible. It’s a functional place, and we appreciate Walter McKee and his group for designing the facility. Whaley Construction has been here with us from the get-go, and we had to overcome some obstacles to get to this point,” Driver said.

Driver thanked the county school board, which has nearly 100 years of experience collectively, for their support of the facility.

“This project has been a desire for several years. Between the desire and planning that goes into something like this, (the board) has put our system in financial shape to be able to do these types of things. We are enhancing the facilities throughout our school system and giving our kids the best we can give them. I told our board members several years ago it was time to build an auditorium, and each one said ‘yes, it’s time.’ It’s important to have support from each board member to accomplish something of this magnitude,” he said.

Board member Jeff Bailey spoke on behalf of the board whose efforts helped make the facility possible.

“We are not only proud of this building but also what this building is going to be used for. Although we have had a great partnership with LBW and they have been super to us, there is nothing like having your own facility. I’m thankful for all the people who helped put this together and every one of you here today are a part of this. We want to see it used and hope in the future we are able to open it up to our community more. Our school board has great relationships with our superintendent. We don’t always have the answers some people would like, but we have an answer today. I think we can all look around and say how proud we are of this building. While we don’t do things quickly, we do get things done, so thank you for all of your patience,” Bailey said.

Straughn High School principal Matt Cobb thanked the school board and Driver.

“I know this project was a lot of work, and a lot of planning went into it. I remember the day when Mr. Driver called us three principals to his office. When we met, he rolled out a set of plans. I could tell a lot of thought was put into making this happen for our students and schools. This building will have a huge impact and provide great opportunities for our students to showcase their talents. We are excited about what this auditorium means to the Straughn community, our schools, and our students. We look forward to a lot of memories and many good things taking place here. Thank you to the board for making it happen,” Cobb said.

According to Straughn High School history teacher Tina Shiver, 6 percent of this year’s senior class has arts scholarships.

“This 6 percent already have some sort of arts scholarship without this facility being open. Last year, we were right under 10 percent. Imagine what we are going to be able to do now that the elementary and middle schools can put on productions. The band has not even started reporting in their scholarships yet. We are so excited about our auditorium and I would like to say thank you to the board,” Shiver said.

The first event in the auditorium will be held on Friday, April 19, and Saturday, April 20. The Covington County Schools Collaborative Arts Program will host three productions of “Little Women: The Broadway Musical” with shows on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m.

“We continue to upgrade and enhance the facilities in our school system to do what is in the best interest of our students. The need has been real, and we are glad to meet this need. We are proud of those in the arts, band, theater, and string band who will call this facility home,” Driver said.