Teacher pitches school board on new theater

Palatka High structure would cost $3-$3.5 million, include classrooms, 214-seat theater

Palatka High School drama teacher Sheila Clouse is on the hunt for at least $1.5 million to fund an on-site theater. 

On Tuesday, Clouse told Putnam County School District board members she hoped to secure a state Cultural Arts Facility grant to pay for the theater’s construction, which is estimated to cost between $3 million-$3.5 million, but she needed help finding matching funds. 

“This is exciting because I thought I’d have to get over the hurdle of you guys being supportive,” Clouse said. “I didn’t come here to ask for money. I’m here for support and direction.”

School board members and Superintendent Phyllis Criswell enthusiastically watched as Clouse, district facilities director Scott Gattschall and a representative from CRG Architects presented a rendering of the building. 

The theater would replace the high school’s racket ball courts, which, Clouse said, are currently in bad shape and the site of activities that are “not school appropriate.”

The rendering of the building presented Tuesday included 214 seats, two classrooms, a lobby and theater accommodations. 

While the school district-owned building would have classrooms, district officials were unsure whether Public Education Capital Outlay money could fund the construction of a theater. 

Clouse said her funding search led her to the state Cultural Arts Facility grant, but the grant would require the school district provide half of the project’s cost. If no construction problems are encountered, Gattschall said, half of the cost would be at least $1.5 million. 

Criswell suggested Clouse look to the state’s entertainment destinations for donations or grants, such as Disney World and Universal Studios. 

Board member Nikki Cummings suggested Clouse to see if U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Economic Development Initiative grant money could be used to fund the theater. 

Clouse said the theater could provide revenue through community rentals, serve as the location of a feeder program for the state’s entertainment destinations and train students for technical jobs. 

While she’s searching for funding, board member Terry Wright suggested Clouse examine the cost and possibility of funding similar theaters near Crescent City Junior-Senior and Interlachen high schools.

Criswell said Interlachen High would have space for a theater once the transportation facility near the school is vacated, and Crescent City officials expressed a desire to have a community theater nearby. 

“I think going after this matching funding is key,” Clouse said. 

Clouse said the facilities grant application deadline is June 2017.