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Incremental improvements for Center for the Arts

Fri, Jan 27th, 2012
Posted in Progress Edition

The American Legion room at the Chatfield Center for the Arts. Photo by Karen Reisne

Raising money for the refurbishing of Chatfield's old elementary buildings has been a challenge in this time of tight budgets and slow economic growth. However, progress is being made in part by stretching the funding with the gifts of time and labor by members of the community.

The elementary school was closed in the spring of 2009. The Economic Development Authority (EDA) took ownership from the school district in February 2010. The vision of renewal for the historic property as Chatfield's Center for the Arts will be costly and will require both government and private funding.

Chatfield City Clerk Joel Young gave me a tour of the buildings, pointing out the improvements and the work in progress.

During this past year the most visible improvements are the removal of the 1954 building and the installation of a curved sidewalk in front of the remaining buildings similar to the sidewalk that was present before the construction of the 1954 building.

The interior of the auditorium has had a partial facelift of its own. Volunteers helped paint the floor and walls. The back stage walls were also painted. Air conditioning has been installed, along with electrical wiring improvements. Curtains were taken down and years of dust beaten out of them before rehanging them. Efforts will be made to maintain the historical character of Potter Auditorium as much as possible.

Improvements to the American Legion Room (former kindergarten room) have been made including fans, lights and fresh paint. Grant money paid for chairs, tables, etc. for the room. The Legion Room serves as a community center for the city. The initial improvements to the room were paid for with funds from the Chatfield American Legion Club. New security lights have been installed at entrances to the buildings. The ceiling in the hallway of the 1916 building has been reconstructed and painted.

The auditorium, which seats nearly 900 people, needed additional bathroom facilities as it only had two stalls serving the auditorium. A ladies' restroom with four stalls was added in the 1916 building (former locker room). The actual stalls were recycled from the 1954 building.

Other improvements included the creation of a Green Room out of a storage room for the comfort of a show's star or a conductor. A doorway opening was installed through the thick brick wall for improved access to the dressing room. This allows the cast to access the dressing room without mixing with audience members that may be in the hallway. A toilet was reinstalled for the dressing room.

Fencing was removed in back of the buildings. The area serves as a community parking lot. Ninety-four window panels were given a fresh coat of paint. Young said a recent grant will be used to replace one row of spotlights in the auditorium and to replace the worn carpet runners in the aisles. An information kiosk will be placed out front. Hand rails that were constructed in Spring Grove may already be installed in front of the auditorium. Work on a kitchen is in progress.

Preliminary work has been done excavating the old gymnasium. This area may be turned into a more intimate theatre setting with good acoustics, movie theatre, or bothsome time down the road when funding becomes available.

With the improvements already completed, demand for use of the auditorium is expected to increase in 2012.


The 2011 funding for improvements came from the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation, Arlin C. Falck Foundation, a Small Cities Development Program Grant, Valspar Paint through the Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund, and the Chosen Valley Community Foundation. When the property was turned over to the EDA, Chatfield Public Schools contributed an additional $275,000 which financed the removal of the 1954 building.

Donations have been made by Chatfield groups in the past including the Chosen Valley Community Foundation, Firefighters Activities Association, Booster Club, Commercial Club, American Legion Club, EDA, the city of Chatfield, and F&M Bank. Some Legacy Grant money was obtained through the Minnesota Historical Society. Additional monies from the school district were spent on asbestos abatement.

Groups that have contributed their time and labor include the Fillmore County Sentence to Serve, Fillmore and Olmsted County Community Service Programs, the Center for the Arts Advisory Committee, the EDA, the Chatfield Heritage Preservation Commission, the Boys Scouts, Lion's Club, Wit's End Theatre Company, Mike Fenske Painting, Pathfinder C.R.M., and the Chatfield Schools Community Service Class.

2011 Activities at the Center

Over ten thousand people have been to Potter Auditorium to enjoy plays, concerts and other activities in 2011. Events, which were mostly held in Potter Auditorium with some in the American Legion Room, have included Chatfield High School plays (One Act Play and Cantorville Ghost), St. Olaf Norseman Concert Band, Lorie Line Concert, Todd Green Concert, Memorial Day Program, The Battle Cry of Freedom, Acting Out (one act plays), Sounds of Hope Concert, The King and I, Rochester Barbershop Chorus, Karl Burke Concert, Chatfield Firefighters' Variety Show, Laurie McClain Concert, Juice Newton Concert, Jerry Rau Concert, SE MN Youth Orchestra Concert, A Branson Style Christmas, and Chatfield Community Christmas Concert. More than thirty-three hundred people have had an occasion to use the American Legion Room for numerous board meetings, conferences, dinners, club meetings, concerts, a science fair, and birthday, Christmas and other public group or family celebrations. The buildings were used during the visit by President Barack Obama this past August.

The facilities are rented out by the EDA. Ticket sales totaled about $110,000 in 2011. Young said businesses downtown as well as other businesses in the region benefit from the number of people drawn to the Center for the Arts.

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