Local Commentary

Editorial: Performance Venue At the High School

It is our sincere hope that as the process is kicked off this week that will result in a brand new George Mason High School in four years that the die is not yet cast about critical elements of the process where some creativity and out-of-the-box thinking could produce something truly extraordinary.

An echo of this concern was expressed at Tuesday’s School Board meeting by board vice chair Phil Reitinger concerning the role of the auditorium in the new school. Reitinger cited the success of the high school’s production of “Spamalot” earlier this month that led to three consecutive sold-out performances, and said it was for good reason, that the show rose to the level of a much more accomplished troupe.

Reitinger was testing the waters with a suggestion that the capacity of the auditorium, and indeed its role in the building, overall, be reevaluated.

Instead of trying to save some nickels by downsizing the auditorium capacity to 700 seats, maybe boosting its capacity by 100 or so could achieve a different kind of benefit, he said. But the matter was closed off by an off-the-cuff estimate by the project consultant that doing that would cost $3.5 million.

For us, we’d like a more specific estimate along with a delineation of contributing cost factors. The same may go for other things where taking advantage of this project could elevate the City’s overall advantage in interesting ways.

For example, don’t forget that the school will be within easy walking distance of the West Falls Church Metro station. This makes it an attractive destination for a much larger population pool for not only school-related, but special events held on the campus.

As part of the overall school-economic development prospects for the site, it would be tantamount to neglect if the planning did not take very seriously the potential of the project to offer a first-rate venue for the arts there, with an auditorium that offered an outward-directed, welcoming face to the Metro station, as well as internal access to the school, of course, and with plans to introduce a wide array of programming for the general public. This would have enormous benefits for the students at the high school who could be drawn into these efforts in a highly educational and skills-development way.

It was noted by Ed Saltzberg, the City’s most esteemed local-growth regional economic expert, at a forum last week that the City’s most promising economic future lies in its role as a restaurant and entertainment destination, assuming that Amazon doesn’t decide to move its second headquarters here. Already, plans at Broad and Washington to commit 5,000 brand new square feet as a new venue for the Creative Cauldron theater operation, adding to its clout, and in conjunction with the State Theatre live entertainment venue and prospects for a movie theater complex at the Founder’s Row site, and more.

Add a first-rate, regional performance venue to this mix.