MASON CITY — A $1 million fundraising campaign is under way to outfit the safe room at Mason City High School for a dual purpose as a community auditorium.

The campaign is off to a running start with the gift of a $300,000 challenge grant from Pat and O. Jay Tomson of Mason City, Jay Lala, president of the Education Foundation of Mason City Public Schools, announced.

The Education Foundation is overseeing the fundraising drive for the space informally called Mohawk Performance Hall.

“Our goal is to have it completed by Jan. 24, 2014,” Lala said.

The St. Olaf Choir has been scheduled to perform in the projected 600-seat auditorium on that date.

Pat Tomson said the safe room in itself was “wonderful,” but it presented the community with an opportunity to “make it something more.”

Tomson said the community has long needed a smaller auditorium for performing arts programs and rehearsals, lectures and public or private receptions.

“I just think it’s so exciting to be part of something that will benefit students and the community for years to come.”

Seating would be retractable but comfortable, with arm rests and upholstered seats. The seating is tiered.

A movable acoustical shell for the stage area will also be installed.

Of the $1 million projected cost to complete the project, $750,000 will be used for immediate furnishings, Lala said.

The remaining $250,000 will be used to establish an account for ongoing maintenance, improvements and special performances.

“This will be a wonderful facility,” Lala said. “It will add to fostering the performance arts students and would attract and help keep the best performing arts teachers.”

Russ Kramer, director of bands at MCHS, said the instrumental music department is excited to have a performance venue “right here on campus.”

“All of the instrumental concerts throughout the year will be there,” Kramer said. “Right now when we have concerts out at NIACC, we have to ship the kids out to NIACC for dress rehearsals and concerts. It also saves on wear and tear on equipment not having to move back and forth.”

High school drama productions and rehearsals will also be held in the performance hall, eliminating the need to rent other facilities, Kramer said.

High school director of choral activities, Joel Everist, said the performance hall will provide an onsite facility where vocal music students can practice daily.

“It’s really a huge benefit for the level of achievement we wish to accomplish,” he said.

Donation pledges may be given over a three-year period.

Donations of $250 will allow the donor to receive a personalized plaque on a seat with their business name or as a memorial. Space for the plaque is limited to 24 characters or less.

Funds gathered through the campaign will be held and distributed through the Education Foundation in a restricted account.

The safe room was funded with grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It was completed by the school district in 2012 as part of a $37 million construction and renovation project at the high school and John Adams Middle School.

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