The Great Falls Public Schools (GFPS) Foundation recently received an anonymous $1 million dollar donation. That donation will go towards renovating the auditorium at CMR High School.
During the April 24 school board meeting, the board voted to accept the donation.
GFPS Foundation Executive Director, Stephanie Schnider stated, "the generosity of people - to support something at that level is remarkable. I was a bit stunned when we were able to get the news and know that we had a donor that was interested in supporting music and arts in that way. I was awe-struck and very excited."
CMR High School Principal, Jamie McGraw said she was "ecstatic" when she heard about the donation. She said upgrades to the nearly 60-year-old auditorium have been discussed over the course of the years. The renovation includes improving acoustics, lighting and sound systems.
"It's a beautiful space as is," McGraw said. "I think when you come in here and we're putting on really big productions and shows, it has been a little hard to see our students on stage. They've been doing a great job trying to work with the lighting and sound that we have, but all of those things need to be improved so that our community can really enjoy our productions to full capacity."
According to the staff report, the school district chose Cushing Terrell for the project design and engineering work. They are also developing a project timeline based on the priority areas.
Dusty Molyneaux, the district's music and arts supervisor said "gratitude" is the first thing that came to mind when he first heard about this donation.
Molyneaux first played with the Great Falls Symphony in 1993 when he was student teaching. He joined GFPS in 1997 as band director for Great Falls High School. Since 2012, he’s been the GFPS Music and Art Supervisor. He said it is "sheer excitement" to be renovating the auditorium and bringning it into a more modern style is what he describes as an "amazing endeavor."
When speaking on the upgrades, he said, "what we're hoping is to get improved acoustics. The things you hear on the stage when performing, will be the same that you hear in the auditorium. That's not necessarily the case right now. We're hoping for a much better lighting system. It's a pretty dark hall, and we would like to bring this to life and let people see how beautiful the hall is. We're also hoping for improved sound categories, as far as getting the sound from the stage out to the audience and making it easier for people to hear plays, lectures, and enjoy music-enhancing performances."
The renovation is currently in the early stages. Any contracts will go to the school board for approval.
For more than 10 years, the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation has been raising money to help students, educators, and buildings within the district. The foundation started with nothing. Today, it manages millions of dollars in assets.
Schnider took on the leadership role in 2021 and explained how far the GFPS Foundation has come.
"It's been remarkable," she said. "The transformation that's happened since the organization was formed in 2010, was set in a way that we continue to grow in significant ways. This donation is a really strong indicator that we still have the trust in donors that want to see improvements in our schools. I think the growth and impact continues to grow exponentially, and we anticipate that will continue to happen. We have a lot of people that care a lot about the students, and they want to be able to step above and beyond what the community and tax payers commit to. It's been a remarkable observation and opportunity for me to be involved and see that trajectory happen in that way. We don't anticipate that slowing down any time soon because we have really supportive and generous donors."
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