By Leah Ingram Eagle
October 4, 2023
280 Living Newspaper
Construction continues on the new Oak Mountain High School Performing Arts Center on Sept. 18.
As the band and choir programs at Oak Mountain High School have grown over the years, so has their need for more space. Approximately one-third of Oak Mountain High’s student population participates in the fine arts programs — a percentage that continues to rise.
The recently completed $8 million fine arts building is the first expansion for OMHS since 2005 and will serve students for years to come.
The fine arts building project was approved by the Shelby County Board of Education in October 2021 as part of a capital projects campaign to address the need for more instructional spaces in county schools, where student growth has already exceeded the buildings’ capacity to accommodate them.
However, David Calhoun, assistant superintendent of operations for Shelby County Schools, said that while the capital projects at most schools consisted of the construction of additional classrooms, a different need was presented at Oak Mountain High School.
“At OMHS, building more standard classrooms wasn’t the most pressing need at the present time,” Calhoun said. “The most pressing need was for additional instructional space to support the growing student participation numbers in the fine arts elective courses of band and choral music.”
The bids were opened on Jan. 11, 2022, and Blalock Building Company of Trussville was the lowest bidder. After months of planning, school board members and OMHS administration broke ground on the project May 4, 2022. After 16 months of construction, the 15,000-square-foot building will soon be completed.
Choir director Michael Zauchin said the new building will allow for continued growth as a department.
“Every single year we seem to be attracting more and more students, and I think that goes hand-in-hand with the production value that we have been putting on, real concert-like shows,” Zauchin said. “If they can be a part of making something like that, then they want to be a part.”
The new building
Upon entering the lobby of the new fine arts building, there will be trophy cases along the left side of the wall to feature awards for both the band and choir programs. Lights on the walls resemble the black keys on a piano, and the ceiling will have four chandelier-type lights that resemble piano keys to light up the space.
The ensemble room will be a shared rehearsal space between the band and choir programs. The plan is that the choir will utilize this room during the first half of the day and the band will utilize it the second half. It will feature a piano and repurposed speakers from the band room. For band, it can be used for small sectionals, and for choir, students can break into groups by singing parts or use the space for two choirs at once.
Kayla Ownby, head drum major for the Oak Mountain marching band, and Drew Sears, brass field captain, talk about the different improvements to the band room in the new fine arts center at Oak Mountain High School as construction continues Sept. 18.
Across the hall is the choir room, which is 20% larger than the former choir room and is one of the largest in the Birmingham area. It features a large rehearsal space with a massive mirrored wall on one side.
The upstairs mezzanine will serve a dual purpose with room for extra choir storage, but also multiple window cut-outs to watch the rehearsals. A sound and lighting table will be inside for the technical crew, and the choreographers can see the ensembles from a higher level.
Ownby and Sears stand inside the ensemble room that will be shared between the band and choir departments.
The new choir room features roll-up doors to the outside in order to easily load trucks for choir competitions. It will also have windows for the first time in the history of the school.
Four directors' offices will provide two spaces each for the choir and band directors. A faculty restroom with a shower is also included for those long rehearsal days without breaks. A conference/break room is just steps away from the offices.
The new band room is 20% larger and the ceiling is six feet higher. The space has a divider in the middle that can slide out to split the room into two spaces.
Features include a percussion room for storing drums, a uniform room with cubbies for the hats and rolling hangers for the jackets and pants, which can be rolled out into the band room for band members to get ready for performances.
Seventeen instrument hanging racks are located around the room to hold tubas and sousaphones. A built-in instrument repair station sits along one of the walls, and a large music library room will house music for both the band and choir.
Instrument storage includes 410 lockers, which provides extra space as the band continues to grow. A chair and stand storage room can hold 200 chairs and stands on racks, to create an open space in the band room for winter guard and majorettes to practice and have enough room to toss their flags.
The large and small mezzanines will provide an additional 2,000 square feet of storage and the inside balconies will provide a high-level view for the 10 marching band staff to see everything from above.
With all the new amenities, assistant director of bands and fine arts chair Travis Bender said the loading dock with external roll-up doors is his absolute favorite part.
“Now, we don’t have to deal with the hydraulic lifts on the trucks,” Bender said. “Instead, two 27-foot trucks can fit in the space and the instruments can be rolled straight out of the band room and onto the truck. With multiple ways in and out of the facility, you won’t have long waits, which is the thing that holds us up the most with loading and unloading.” Zauchin added that it’s safer for both the kids and the instruments.
On the floors, luxury vinyl tile lines the rehearsal spaces, carpet in the offices and ensemble rooms, polished concrete in the hallways and epoxy flooring in the bathrooms.
Outside of the band room is an 800-foot concrete pad that will provide a space for the band or choir to rehearse or a place to eat before the games.
Performing arts center facelift
The current performing arts center is already twice the size of any other in the Shelby County school system, and the space will get a small facelift and some needed repairs.
“The space just needs to be spruced up,” Zauchin said. “They did a very good job on it when building this school.”
The PAC, which seats 950, will get a new paint color scheme that will change the walls from tan to gray with black accents that will match the green seats.
The stage floor is set to be replaced in November and will be locally funded through money from the band, choir and theater programs.
“The stage is a vital spot to practice, and we have to use it almost every single period,” Zauchin said.
Barbara Snyder, the coordinator of facilities and maintenance for SCS, said their department is excited to see this project come to completion.
“We have enjoyed working alongside the Blalock Construction group, Lathan Associates Architects and the administrative and fine arts teams at OMHS,” Snyder said. “We appreciate our district leadership for developing this plan and our board members, past and present, for approving and supporting it. We are unified in the desire to serve the students in our district, and we believe this facility will be a wonderful blessing for the Oak Mountain community for years to come.”
Zauchin said he is very excited and very thankful for the community support to invest in their programs. Bender said he appreciates the support of the board of education and Oak Mountain stakeholders.
“In recognizing the continued growth and success of the band and choral programs and education in the Oak Mountain community, we look forward to many years of a continued performing arts presence within the community,” Bender said.
In the second construction phase, the former music wing will be converted into additional sports facilities. That item is in the Shelby County Schools five-year capital plan for 2025, with a budgeted cost of $500,000.