GFPS Foundation receives $1 million donation for CMR auditorium renovation

The Great Falls Public Schools Foundation received a $1 million anonymous donation for the renovation of the auditorium at C.M. Russell High School.

During the April 24 school board meeting, the board voted to accept the donation.

The project is in the early stages and any contracts will come before the school board for approval.

Stephanie Schnider, GFPS foundation director, said that “we are so fortunate” to have donors who support improvements for students.

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Schnider said a formal assessment of the auditorium was conducted September 2022 through February 2023 to
determine needs for the space.

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The assessment included the collection of feedback surveys from key CMR and GFPS staff; an on-site meeting; and acoustical testing in the auditorium.

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A formal report was compiled by Big Sky Acoustics in February 2023, which provided guidance on focus areas for work in the auditorium, which include acoustics, sound and lighting, according to the staff report.

Addressing the acoustic needs in the auditorium may impact the appearance of the space and recommendations for the renovation in consultation with the district music and art supervisor and GFPS Foundation board members were presented to and approved by the donor, according to the staff report.

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The district selected Cushing Terrell for the project design and engineering work and the firm is developing renderings and a project timeline based on the priority areas, according to the staff report.

Gordon Johnson, GFPS board chair, said that the district was fortunate for “such a generous gift.”

He said he’d traveled around the state in recent weeks and “we’re so fortunate to have two wonderful theaters in our school district.”

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The school board voted unanimously to accept the gift.

GFPS board policy allows the district to accept gifts that are deemed appropriate and requires donors to obtain independent appraisal value of their gift for IRS purposes, according to the staff report.