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Elyria arts center packs in holiday crowds

  • Performing-Arts-Center-1-jpg

    The Performing Arts Center at Elyria High is shown under construction in 2010. Since its opening that year, it's become a mainstay for school programming.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE FILE

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ELYRIA — The Elyria High School Performing Arts Center, known by most as just The PAC, is a powerhouse venue of the arts that makes good money for Elyria Schools and provides a home for the musical, choir and drama productions of every school in the district.

Many parents of Elyria students and other residents will visit this 800-plus-seat facility for one reason or another this holiday season. Here is a look at why the PAC came to be and answers the question of whether it was worth building when hybrid cafeteria auditoriums are often the preferred route of school districts.

When voters in 2007 agreed to fully fund the construction of the PAC when the district’s high school building project was on the ballot, the promise was to take the city’s love of the arts to the next level with a professional-caliber stage that could serve as the community’s theater.

To some degree, the PAC has held true to that promise, but district officials said it is used so heavily by school-sponsored events that usage is effectively maxed out — in the best way possible. There are 100 to 125 events happening a year at the high school. Most of those are choir concerts, band concerts, elementary vocal concerts and the high school drama club.

“Nearly the entire year is booked by school events and they ebb and flow as the seasons change based on school concerts,” said Amy Higgins, the district’s spokeswoman. “Obviously our busiest time of year for school events is November-December and March through May, but there are opportunities even then and throughout the year for other entities to use the space.”

Then, there are about 25 events per year where the performing arts center is rented.

JR Simons, who the district brought in a few years ago to serve as theater manager, said the center definitely has room to grow, to become the community’s arts center.

“I think it has that potential. What is difficult is that right now in the city of Elyria there are no actual resident community theaters any more,” he said. “There used to be the Elyria Summer Theatre Association that worked out of the old high school and Lorain County Children’s Pioneer Theatre. Right now, Pioneer Theatre is the only existing group and they are only in during the summer. So we have had to expand and have groups from outside.”

Simons said there has been interest from groups in North Ridgeville, Amherst, Avon and Sheffield Lake.

“We don’t have a resident dance studio in the city of Elyria,” he said. “If they did, then by all means they would be here.”

While 90 percent of the events in the PAC are school-sponsored and generate no revenue, the calendar is full of community events and rentals.

“I would say that probably in the last year we have increased the use and the revenue probably by about 200 percent over the time I have been here,” Simons said.

According to school figures, gross revenue from such rentals has increased each year since fiscal year 2014-15, when about $15,000 came in. This year’s earnings are at $23,556 through the first quarter of fiscal year 2017-18. The projected revenue is expected to be more than $40,000.

“Early on when the PAC opened there was never any notion the PAC would make money, because our priority will always be for the school events, followed by outside rentals,” Higgins said. “That’s not to say, however, that outside rental contracts are lagging. They’ve increased quite a bit in the last year or two. We certainly encourage rentals to contact us and to work with our theatre director to fit into our performance schedule.”

Brian Kokai, director of technology operations for the district, said ticket sales from school-sponsored events go directly to the performing organization and are not included in the district’s revenue. For example, revenue from tickets sales for the fall play goes directly to the drama club to offset the costs of costumes, props and licensing.

“Outside rental revenue only partially offsets and relieves the general fund of PAC expenses,” he said. “Most of our outside rentals come from local dance studios for their recitals and performances and community theaters.”

Simons said the space is spectacular in terms of what it offers.

“It’s a fully stocked theater with a stage that has a fly system. We can raise and lower scenery pieces on the stage,” he said. “We have a state-of-the-arts lighting system, state-of-the-arts sound system. One of the last groups that came in actually hired a company from Kentucky to fly people in a production of ‘Peter Pan.’ It was really fabulous to be able to utilize the space’s potential.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.

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