GOCC's Hagen Theater could change to primary instructional space with renovation

CENTREVILLE — Glen Oaks Community College’s Nora Hagen Theater could see it’s primary use changed quite a bit once the college’s newest renovation project is complete.

During a report on plans to renovate the south side of Glen Oaks’ campus during Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting, GOCC President Dr. David Devier said the theater is “tentatively” planned to become primarily an instructional space for large classes as part of a renovation of the space, with the working name of the Nora Hagen Instructional Auditorium.

College officials have repeatedly stressed the need to renovate the theater, which Devier said in March was a “terrible place to do instruction” and that it had been neglected for a long time. Some of the issues with the space previously mentioned by officials include minimal ADA accessibility, the size of its seating, the lack of lighting for performances, no built-in sound system, dated/worn carpet and upholstery, no built-in projection system and poor lighting in general.

Devier said the theater has seen a lot of use as an instructional space since the COVID-19 pandemic, and would particularly help out its nursing classes, which have grown in size the last few years.

“A lot of that is predicated on post-COVID, in the fact that we have these large nursing cohorts which we’ve never had before. There’s 40 first-year students and up to as much as 50 second-year students once it’s completely engaged in that program,” Devier said. “As you probably know, we don’t have those large instructional spaces here. To make the most use of that space, it appears the best way to do that is to make it into an instructional auditorium.”

However, the change in primary use could mean the theater’s minor use as a performance/production space may be eliminated, something Devier brought up during the discussion.

“It wouldn’t prohibit speakers or that type of thing in the future, but it would most likely shut down – other than certain things like talent shows – productions, theatrical productions,” Devier said. “In all honesty, we’ve had limited, limited use of it in that regard since I’ve been here.”

In recent years, the theater has been used to host a few shows put on in collaboration with the college and the Sturgis Civic Players theatre company, the most recent complete production being 2019’s “Little Shop of Horrors.” Their next play, “Gilligan’s Island: The Musical,” is expected to be performed at the theatre next month.

Devier said Three Rivers and Sturgis already have “significant” performance auditoriums, such as the Three Rivers High School’s Performing Arts Center and Sturgis’ Sturges-Young Auditorium, and compared to those, the 290-seat Hagen Theater was “not suitable for any significant kind of production.”

“I know the history, and back in the day we had some amazing things,” Devier said. “But even since my time here, we’ve gone to Three Rivers twice with speakers because of the size of the venue that we needed.”

Devier said plans haven’t been finalized, and there is a “lot of thought” being put into how the theater gets renovated.

“It’s not a thing I’m supporting without giving it a lot of thought because we are a college and we love to think we’re across the whole arts spectrum, which would include theatre,” Devier said. “We had a theatre program at one point, yes, and a music program, but we kind of put most of our eggs in the studio art area, as you know, and that’s one of our strongest arts engagement.

“It’s not been decided yet, but it makes the best sense to use the facility on a consistent basis in the future.”

Trustee Carol Higgins said she had a “hard time” understanding why the Hagen Theater can’t still be a multi-use facility, adding that she recalled the plan was to “improve it for that purpose.” Devier said that was the original plan, but things had changed.

“I think when we first started all these conversations, I’d agree with you, Carol, that’s what we were seriously thinking we would do,” Devier said.

“Going forward, it’s probably going to make it used daily or near daily, which would be a whole new situation,” Devier added. “It’s being used daily now because of COVID, and it’s not a good instructional space right now because of a lot of things, but we can make it a good instructional space.”

GOCC Executive Director of Communications and Marketing Valorie Juergens said the Sturgis Civic Players have enjoyed the Hagen Theater because of its small size compared to Sturges-Young, however she added new management at Sturges-Young wants the Civic Players to come back to their space in the future, something she said the theater company is “taking into consideration.”

Overall, Higgins said she would want to have “as many options as possible” for the theater.

“I appreciate what’s currently happening, but I think as a trustee I want to have as many options for the future as possible, and so I hope we’ll try to find what’s available for the potential future of drama here at the college,” Higgins said.

In other business…

  • The Board of Trustees approved a 3.01 percent tuition increase for the 2022-23 academic year, equivalent to a $4 per credit hour increase in tuition. In-district students will now pay $130 per contact hour (previously $126), service area students will now pay $161 (previously $157), in-state students will now pay $196 (previously $192), out-of-state students will now pay $232 (previously $228), and international students will now pay $280 (previously $276).
  • The Board of Trustees approved a faculty continuing contract to Karen Goodman and Cheryl Schmitt.
  • In his report to the board, Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services Bruce Zakrzewski said the college has had trouble with Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) in terms of qualifying for a grant to connect their water system to Centreville’s water system, and the college is now starting the process of placing an arsenic filter into their main well system, something that will cost $100,000.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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