Your View: New Patrick Henry needs a full auditorium

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Your View: New Patrick Henry needs a full auditorium
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By Alissa Oram, Alexandria (Fie photo)

To the editor:
Alexandria is about to make a much needed multimillion dollar investment on the West End to build the new Patrick Henry K-8 School and recreation center. This cannot be just a stopgap measure to increase school capacity for our city. We must look at this, and every project our community is investing in, as an opportunity for a transformational capital investment that will draw people to Alexandria.

The community has been advocating for the inclusion of an auditorium that would be part of a shared space to be utilized by both the school and the recreation center. The current school has an auditorium that will be demolished, and designs for the new school replace it with a cafeteria with movable stage and a black box theater.

Residents have been strongly advocating for a full auditorium instead. Including a shared space auditorium could expand Alexandria’s performing arts recreational offerings as well as support the performing arts culture that is being cultivated at Patrick Henry.

It also presents a revenue generating opportunity for the city as the auditorium could be utilized by local arts groups on the evenings and weekends. Performance space is expensive and difficult to find in our area, especially places of the caliber of a proper auditorium.

A proper auditorium with permanent seating, a sloped floor for comfortable viewing and acoustics designed for the performing arts is a true commodity these days. A number of performing arts groups in Alexandria currently utilize schools in Arlington for their performances. Why not create a space where Alexandria groups can perform in the city?

The current Patrick Henry auditorium has always been a well-utilized and well-loved space at the school. It is used throughout the day for music and dance classes as well as general assemblies, and in the evenings it plays host to meetings and performances.

Most of the time, the cafeteria is also in use. If you have the pleasure of attending a performance at Patrick Henry, you will see that the current auditorium is always at maximum capacity with only standing room available. And this is while currently only serving a kindergarten through fifth grade population.

What will happen if there is only a cafetorium moving forward while we simultaneously expand to eighth grade? Not only will this create space challenges during the day and evening, but it also will divide the community we are working so hard to build at Patrick Henry because school-wide events will no longer be possible.

Cafetoriums are a passing trend, but we should build a school that will serve us for generations. Including an auditorium in this project will create a center for performing arts on the West End that will benefit the entire community.

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