By Megan Kehoe • The Bulletin

For half a century, drama and music students at Madras High School have had no other option but to hold their plays and recitals in the school’s gymnasium.

But all that is set to change Dec. 1, when the school’s 34,000-square-foot Performing Arts Center opens.

“The kids have actually been pretty resilient over the years and put on great performances,” said Darryl Smith, operations director for the Jefferson County School District. “But the gymnasium just isn’t acoustically set up for plays and concerts. Having this (performing arts center) will give those kids a boost and provide so many more opportunities for performances.”

Madras High’s $11.3 million auditorium is nearly complete. Funded through a 2012 school district bond measure, the 600-seat auditorium will be the most technologically advanced performing arts center in the state, according to Skanska U.S.A. Building Inc., the company building the facility. Energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling are all major features of the building.

“Adding 34,000 square feet of space that wasn’t there before is going to increase the annual energy cost for the school,” Smith said.

“So anything we could do to reduce the energy footprint, the better off the district will be.”

The new lighting will provide students in the school’s drama program a chance to learn other aspects of production, adding roles such as lighting technicians and stage manager to plays.

The performing arts center also will be open to other groups in the community. A Shakespearean theater company is set to perform there in December. Smith also said a local dance studio will have its annual June performance in the auditorium. More acts will be scheduled throughout 2015.

Smith said that last week some retired Madras High teachers were invited to the center for a tour. He said one of them had taught at the school the first year it was open, in 1964.

“She said that back then they tried to get a performing arts center built, but they just didn’t have the funding to make it happen,” Smith said. “Here it is 50 years later, and we finally have one.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0354, .