Hugh Caumartin, superintendent of Bowling Green Schools, shows off the construction of the district's auditorium.
BOWLING GREEN - As Bowling Green's new junior high school and auditorium take shape off Fairview Avenue, a small group of residents is working to add a few extra touches to the project.
The group's first goal is to raise enough money to buy a grand piano for the auditorium. After that, its members hope to have enough money to create an endowment fund that would help pay for future expenses at the performing arts center or even to bring in performers or programs.
"This is going to be something the whole community is going to be able to use, and I'm thrilled about that," said Elaine Skoog, former director of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce. "I think we're well overdue for it."
No one knows that better than Jim Brown, who retired three years ago after 40 years as director of choral music at Bowling Green High School.
Mr. Brown said he remembers seeing the original plans for the high school, which was built on Poe Road in 1965. They included an auditorium near the band and music rooms, but that part of the project was eliminated to save money.
The district's new buildings, including a gymnasium, are funded by a voter-approved bond issue.
For four decades, Mr. Brown staged concerts "everywhere and anywhere."
"I refused to do concerts in the gymnasium because of the acoustics and the whole feel of the place was not for a concert hall," he said. "We did concerts at the junior high auditorium and Kobacher Hall and the Eva Marie Saint Theatre."
He said that while it was nice to use the facilities at Bowling Green State University, the schools incurred an expense renting them and had to plan their events around the university's schedule.
"It's been a long time in coming, but I'm really excited about it," Mr. Brown said of the new performing arts center, which is under construction between the high school and the new junior high.
Mr. Brown, Ms. Skoog, former Mayor Wes Hoffman, and Tom Milbrodt, a school board member, have worked for the past year to raise about $70,000 for extras at the new auditorium. In addition to soliciting donations, they launched a seat sponsorship drive.
For $200, a donor receives an engraved gold plate on a seat in the new auditorium. Some residents have dedicated seats to their children, their parents, teachers, or someone who has died.
Dr. Milbrodt said about 140 seat sponsorships have been sold so far. The group's initial goal is to sell the 250 seats in the middle of the 737-seat house, which would raise $50,000 for a quality, used grand piano.
He said the group also has collected about $9,000 in donations. Economic conditions have made fund-raising a challenge, he said, although the slow economy seemed to help the board when it went out for construction bids on the $27.5 million junior high and auditorium project.
The bids came in lower than expected so the school board was able to pay for many of the extra items for the auditorium, such as a lift for the orchestra, that otherwise might have required private funding, Dr. Milbrodt said.
"We'll keep [going] out there and keep knocking on doors," he said. "Times have gotten tougher rather than better, and people are being, I guess, fairly discriminating with what they can fund. We are fortunate our voters supported the levy."
In November, 2006, voters in the city school district narrowly approved a 28-year, 2.93-mill bond issue to pay for the new buildings, which will replace the 1920s-era junior high and auditorium at West Wooster and South Church streets near downtown. The new school is expected to open for classes in the fall of 2009.
For information about seat sponsorships, contact the superintendent's office or go to the school's Web site at bgcs.k12.oh.us/news.html.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at