Kyle Troutman: It’s the inside that counts

On the south end of Cassville High School, the Performing Arts Center has taken its shape.

The building, an impressive 36,025 square feet, is completely dried-in, meaning all exterior construction is complete and no precipitation will enter the building.

From the outside, the majority of what you see is colored tin with contrasting line patterns and shades of yellow and gold, and the southwest corner’s glass-wrapped glass entrance provides a striking black visual to accent Wildcat Nation’s colors.

For some, however, the exterior is striking a different chord — disappointment. Such can be the scuttlebutt in a small town with big pride, and I hope to add some perspective to the PAC as we near its opening.

From the get-go, when the district proposed the $9.5 million bond issue in 2022 (passed in April 2023 with 63% of voters in favor) to self-fund the project, Superintendent Merlyn Johnson was already priming the pump when it came to the exterior.

Just over a year ago, before the election, he said: “We can’t afford to make it look like Big Cedar Lodge, but we don’t want it to just be a metal building. We are being creative to make it the best we can on our budget. It will look a little like a tin building, but it will be a really cool one.”

That “really cool” part is all stuff we won’t see until the PAC is open for business, and what it will provide our students is something not many districts can tout.

For starters, the major trade-off the district made on the exterior, according to Facilities and Operations Director Dusty Reid, is brick for classrooms. Instead of a flashier look on the outside, the fine arts department will now have their own space — about a third of the total square footage — made with them in mind. That is invaluable when it comes to improving a program in the long term.

Furthermore, the $650,000 in audio and visual equipment will allow students to pursue greater endeavors on stage and behind it. More dynamic lighting, sound throughout the seating and foyer (which can be pinpointed into smaller areas for off-stage meetings) and full video production capabilities with screens in the auditorium will provide a theatre experience never-before seen in Cassville.

The facility will have 800 seats total, 450 of which are retractable to allow for events like banquets or meetings, which is about 100 more compared to the FEMA Event Center, which also requires 200 on the floor. The PAC seating will also be padded theatre style, adding an extra comfort to those who use them.

Cassville is the third district in the last decade to pursue such a structure, with Monett’s opening in 2015 and Purdy’s in 2018. Comparing the three shows just how much Cassville was able to accomplish with it’s proposal.

Monett’s PAC had a total cost of $4.25 million, but because it doubles as a FEMA tornado shelter, federal funding cut the district’s cost to $2.75 million. The building is 21,600 square feet with 700 seats, and, with renovations, connected to the existing fine arts area at Monett High School.

Purdy’s PAC is a standalone structure not connected to its other buildings. At $4.2 million in cost, about half of which was covered by FEMA, the building is over 8,000 square feet, seats more than 750 with theatre and stadium seating, and it also houses the district’s early childhood program.

Cassville’s PAC is $9.8 million, with nearly all the funding coming from the bond issue, which the district would not be able to propose if it hadn’t been as financially responsible over the last number of years. Paying off bond options early and refinancing when opportune has saved Cassville more than $3.5 million since 1997 ($1 million from a 2016 bond financing adjustment), but that may be a topic for a different column on another day.

If you consider cost by square footage, Cassville is right in the middle. Monett comes in at about $196 per square foot, Purdy is about $494 per square foot, and Cassville is $272 per square foot. As far as bang for the buck, Cassville set its sights heart of the building — the students and what is best for their educations and career goals.

Whatever anyone may feel about the outside, the inside is what counts. I can’t wait to see the way our creative minds put it to use.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of the Cassville Democrat since 2014 and became Publisher in 2023. He was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers in 2017, and he won a Golden Dozen Award from ISWINE in 2022. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or ktroutman@cassville-

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