Dover's Central Middle School auditorium went dark in March 2008 after decades as one of the preeminent arts venues in the city. Now, the once scuffed and dim hallways surrounding the theater have a newly finished gleam, and the theater itself is decked out and awaiting audiences.


With the final touches being put on Central Middle School’s auditorium and music rooms, years of renovations are set to come to a close in early 2010.

The CMS auditorium went dark in March 2008 after decades as one of the preeminent arts venues in the city. Now, the once scuffed and dim hallways surrounding the theater have a newly finished gleam, and the theater itself is decked out and awaiting audiences.

A community theater

Principal Dr. Darren Guido said the team that planned the renovations met with everyone from lighting and musical directors to arts groups to a theater consultant and B&B Music to make sure the facility was what the school, and the community, needed.

It features new upholstery, carpeting, lighting fixtures and proscenium, and has a re-plastered ceiling.

Organizers purposefully chose red for the seating and a tan print for the carpeting in the theater instead of Capital’s blue and white. It was just one move to ensure that it was seen as more than a school auditorium. They wanted to restore it to its heyday as an arts venue.

“You don’t see a middle school auditorium, you see a community auditorium,” Guido said. “We want this to be so much more than a middle school auditorium.”

One of the school’s longtime music teachers and band directors Gene Moore is in his 39th year at Central Middle, and remembers when its acoustic excellence and technical capabilities made it a favorite performance spot. Moore said engineers were especially careful to retain the aural integrity of the space.

“This place was, acoustically, the best. Nothing could compare to it,” he said.

Many of the suggestions on Moore’s wish list have been fulfilled with the updated space. A new bank of lights have been installed to light the pit area, the projection room window was left open so the lighting and sound director could hear better, and a loading dock was installed outside the rear of the stage. This way groups can back up almost to the stage and move everything in a set of double doors.

Another move was to add an elevator, and to relocate the dressing rooms to the basement. A small auditorium, or audion, was there but it was no longer needed with the addition of the large group instruction room, Moore said. Now the basement houses the dressing rooms, two storage rooms, and a set building room.

Moore said the acoustic factor and additions such as advanced sound and lighting systems will lure arts groups to the venue.

“After the newness wears off I think they’ll still want to use it because of the quality, the efficiency and the ease of use,” Moore said.

Greater Dover Arts Council Chair Fred Kaltreider said like anyone who remembers the theater from years past, he is curious to see what it will mean for the local performances.

“As far as options for the arts, it’s back on the scene and I’m anxious to see what that will bring,” he said.

He said the CMS auditorium joins the ranks of great local venues such as Wells Theatre at Wesley College, the Education & Humanities Theatre at Delaware State University and the Schwartz Center for the Arts.

“We have these wonderful stages, we want the community to support them,” Kaltreider said.

Music students benefit

Not all the changes will be visible to audiences. Much of the work that has been done was to the school’s music classrooms and storage areas.

New equipment including risers and chairs line the chorus room and one of the music classrooms. When the renovations are completely finished, a total of five practice rooms will have gotten a makeover. They eventually will include a computer program wherein students can download music assignments, play and record them, and then get feedback and grades from teachers.

One of the mundane but important parts of the changes is additional storage for instruments, including a climate-controlled room for string instruments. A basement storage room holds seasonal and large instruments. A room lined with gated cubbies in various sizes to fit each instrument was added off one of the classrooms so each kid could properly store their instrument, and could add a lock if they wanted.

Moore said students were shocked when they first saw the extent of the reworked facilities.
“It’s like, ‘They did this for us. This is ours, and we’re going to take care of it.’”

BY THE NUMBERS

80 Students in seventh-grade band 71 Students in eighth-grade band 29 Students in seventh-grade chorus 23 Students in eighth-grade chorus 17 Students in the strings program

Email Sarika Jagtiani at sarika.jagtiani@doverpost.com.