ST. MARYS — Camden County High School Fine Arts Director Dean Slusser realizes the school’s auditorium is not the ideal venue for many school activities.
The 1,230-seat auditorium is too large for some of the visual dance productions, plays and other events that don’t fill the venue.
It’s also not efficient to turn on air conditioning and lighting for an activity where a capacity crowd is not expected.
After several years of budget and staffing challenges, the school’s fine arts program will get more than $10 million in improvements that will resolve the issue.
The two-year project, which is currently being designed by architects, includes a 50,000 square-foot expansion that will include a 300-seat little theater, a 150-seat black box theater, a dance studio, art gallery, and costume and scene shops.
Slusser said construction will have little effect on programs and performances.
“We will be able to use the auditorium until about the end (of construction),” he said. “The auditorium should be available.”
Herb Rowland, chairman of the Camden County School Board, said funding for the project is through the last ESPLOST, which was approved by voters in 2009, and through the current ESPLOST, approved in 2014.
Rowland said audiences will enjoy performances in the smaller venues, compares to the existing auditorium, which he said is good for concerts, choral performances and larger events.
“It’s still way too big,” Rowland said. “It’s not a theater.”
The improvements are also an acknowledgement that fine arts is an important part of the curriculum at Camden High.
Students enrolled in fine arts are offered classes in chorus, band, culinary arts and visual arts.
“We have more students enrolled in the fine arts academy than any other one,” Rowland said.
The high school also has separate academies on health occupations, engineering, business and government and public services. Each academy has instructors teaching required math, history, economics and most of the other required courses.
All ninth-graders are enrolled in the freshman academy until they commit to one of the five academies when they enter their sophomore year.
Requiring students to choose an academy has resulted in lower dropout rates and higher standardized test scores, Rowland said.
“We have five or six magnet schools under one roof,” Rowland said. “It’s all working the way it’s supposed to work.”