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WKS Auditorium nears $160,000 fundraising goal

Silver Bay's William Kelley Schools auditorium is in line for some major improvements in the near future.

Since last summer, the school has been raising money to install new seats in the 60-year-old venue. At $200 a piece, the new chairs came with a $100,000 price tag, but an anonymous donation of $50,000 in December put the school over top of its fundraising goal for the new seats.

Now, the school has received a $30,000 grant from Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. to replace the sound system in the auditorium, $10,000 more than was requested by the M-Club, the booster organization.

Cliffs, which owns the Northshore Mining plant in Silver Bay, only awards grants to nonprofit organizations, so the M-Club is acting as the fiscal agent in distributing the money.

Katie Fritz, an English and theater teacher at WKS as well as the driving force behind the fundraising effort to improve the auditorium, said Cliffs provided the extra money so the school didn't have to cut corners and could buy what is needed.

"Originally, I wrote to Cliffs asking for $20,000 expecting that we would help fund the additional costs with help from the community," Fritz said. "This morning, we got the call that they wanted to give us $30,000 instead of the $20,000 to do what really needs to be done. It kind of blows me away."

Like the seats, which have been repaired with duct tape, the nearly 60-year-old sound system is original to the auditorium.

"It desperately needs to be replaced," Fritz saaid. "Right now, whenever the choir performs, they bring out their own speakers and a supplemental soundboard to bypass the sound system entirely. It can be difficult to hear people at events like commencements."

Fritz said the consultant they are working with on the improvements to the auditorium estimates the cost of a new sound system at $25,000. The total cost of updating the auditorium, including seats, sound system and lighting, is estimated at $160,000. With the Cliffs' grant, an anonymous donation and a $30,000 grant from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation, nearly $156,000 has been raised.

Fritz said he has been amazed by the community's response to the campaign, from large anonymous donations to small $20 gifts.

In addition to the school's uses, Lake Superior Community Theatre, DARE programs and the Northern Lake County Arts Board use the venue for performances and presentations.

"I think there is a sense of community pride that comes from it, just watching on Facebook how excited people are about this place getting a facelift," Fritz said. "We share the story of this space together and that so many people are excited to keep that story going.

"If that isn't a Hallmark movie in the making, then I don't know what is," he said.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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