- Associated Press - Sunday, February 21, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A push for a new auditorium at Bismarck High School is gaining momentum as the school district works through a facilities planning process in an effort to accommodate an increasing number of students.

The high school’s makeshift auditorium, the Knaak Center, is a multipurpose space that’s in high demand from physical education classes, cheerleaders, dancers, musicians and drama students.

“We truly believe arts are a viable career option and important for student development,” said Bismarck High School teacher Jennifer Bedard-Upgren. “We need a place that values that.”

School board members have mentioned the possibility of an auditorium at several recent meetings, the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1oLY7Yz ) reported. Parents of students at the high school broached the subject at forums to gather input on facilities last month.

Bedard-Upgren said she’s sympathetic to other needs in the school district, such as the overcrowded middle schools, but she said there’s a sentiment within the district’s oldest high school that “it’s our turn” for an upgrade.

The Knaak Center was last remodeled in the 1990s, according to Bismarck High School band director Bob Peske.

“When we designed this, theater was not in mind,” he said, adding that the renovation aimed to make the space viable for music performances, while theater productions continued at Century High School.

Although the facility’s acoustics are good for music, its lighting system is geared toward band, orchestra or choir performances and don’t allow students the opportunity to learn the technical side theater production, Bedard-Upgren said. There also isn’t much space to build and store sets, she said.

“I can’t give my students that,” Bedard-Upgren said. “They’re really missing out on the full experience.”

District officials estimate an auditorium would cost $6 million. Darin Scherr, business and operations manager for Bismarck Public Schools, said officials see potential to build one on the north side of the school.

School Board President Lawrence King said the district will consider the issue over the next few months.

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