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CWC Board of Ed Unveils Center for Performing Arts

With state-of-the art design, this is not your grandfather's 'auditorium'.

Welcome to the room formerly known as "The Auditorium."

The Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education celebrated the opening of the new James Caldwell High School Center for Performing Arts–which was previously the auditorium–with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house on Wednesday night.

Board of Education President Mary Davidson dedicated the center to Superintendent Daniel Gerardi and Business Administrator and Board Secretary Ronald Skopak for all their efforts in the creation, funding and management of this year-long project.

"I am honored and privileged. This is a proud moment for the Board of Education," Davidson said.

In his welcoming remarks, James Caldwell High School Principal Kevin Barnes said that the dream for the facility began more than a dozen years ago, when funds were provided for the front portico at the entrance to the center. 

"Dr. Gerardi provided the backdrop for the dream. Ron Skopak chaired countless meetings to make this dream come to fruition," Barnes said.

Superintendent Gerardi hopes the center will be utilized as a community resource calling it "a community treasure." Gerardi told opening ceremony attendants–which included students, parents, faculty, musicians, Caldwell Mayor Susan Gartland and West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta–that they will not be "disappointed" when viewing the center.

His prediction proved correct when visitors visibly gasped upon entering the center and witnessed its 850 seats, wood accents, warm lighting and open and spacious floor plan. 

"It is absolutely beautiful. It is hard to imagine this center is attached to a high school," remarked Nancie Lederer Whiting, a West Caldwell resident and professional violinist who volunteered to perform at the event.

In an interview, Gerardi said the BOE began thinking about the renovation more than 20 years ago. The original auditorium was built when the high school was constructed in 1961.

"It was certainly dated," Gerardi said.

The project was placed on bond referendums in both 1986 and 1996, Gerardi said, but was "pushed out" at the last minute due to other priorities. The project was finally approved as part of the bond referendum that passed in December 2007. 

The renovations cost approximately $3.8 million, with the state of New Jersey paying 40% of the cost ($1.5 million), and the remaining $2.3 million covered by the referendum.

The district's Business Administrator and Board Secretary Ronald Skopak said everything was replaced, from installing new technology, lighting and a sound stage to acquiring new curtains and chairs. Air conditioning and a new ventilation system were also installed. In addition, the entire music wing at the high school underwent improvements with updates to the band and orchestra rooms. 

The architectural firm of Feitlowitz and Kosten, specialists in school projects, provided the design. Niram, Inc. was the general contractor, while William Marshall, of Harvey Marshall Berling Associates, was responsible for the sound system. 

After viewing the new music area, visitors to the open house were entertained by instrumentalists and vocal musicians of all ages, from members of the faculty to pianist Bedros Vartavar Maldjian, 6, and his sister, Samantha Marie Maldjian, 8.

The children's mother, professional flutist and private music teacher Sarita Marie Melkon, also performed while their father, Pierre Maldjian, enjoyed the music.

Maldjian said he was very impressed with the center. "It is great for students to take advantage of this wonderful place," he said.

His comments were echoed by Lederer Whiting. After performing with her daughter, cellist and Grover Cleveland Middle School student Allegra Whiting, she said that not only is the center "a physically beautiful space, but the sound is lovely."

In addition to performing professionally, Lederer Whiting teaches private violin lessons. She said she believes the new Center for Performing Arts is a testament to "the district, the strong performing arts department and the music teachers."

While the center will primarily benefit music students at JCHS, it can also be used for a fee by community groups for performances, lectures and other events.

To commemorate this event, the Caldwell-West Caldwell Education Foundation has created an Adopt-a-Chair fundraising program. For a donation of $200 or more, the foundation will dedicate one or more chairs to an individual, business or group.

Donor names will be engraved on a plaque and then affixed to the chairs. Each plaque measures one-by-four inches, providing enough room for a two-line message. 

Proceeds from this program directly benefit the high school, providing funds for special programs, instruments and/or equipment within the school.

More information on the program can be found at the CWCEF website, www.cwcef.org.

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