Construction starts on Nixa High School performing arts addition

NIXA PUBLIC SCHOOLS theater, vocal music and band teachers shovel dirt at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Aetos Center for the Performing Arts at Nixa High School May 5, 2021.

Nixa Public Schools broke ground on a $16 million performing arts addition to its high school May 5, and asked the Nixa City Council to consider waiving some development fees attached to the project.

Dr. Kevin Kopp, Nixa Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education and District Operations, addressed the city council May 24.

"We all know construction costs are going up right now, and so we would ask as a school district that if the city is willing to forgive some of those city fees, it would help us through the process of constructing this center for the performing arts," Kopp said.

The project is made possible through the passage of a voter-approved bond issue in April 2019. A $15 million bond issue passed, as did a 41-cent property tax levy increase for capital improvement projects and increased wages for teachers. Question 1 passed by a vote of 3,075-1,484, nabbing 67.45 percent of the vote in 14 precincts. Question 2 passed by a simple majority vote of 2,477-2,081, attaining 54.34 percent “yes” votes.

Costs of construction labor and materials have since climbed. The scope of the project also took a more definite shape from the time of the bond issue campaign and the time of the groundbreaking.

"You don't want to pay the architects a lot when the initial design is made, and so from that time on, the cost did go up," Kopp said.

To date, the costs for Nixa City Hall staff to review plans for the performing arts center are at $5,937.50. There is potential for additional review in the Nixa Department of Planning and Development. Nixa Public Schools asked the Nixa City Council to waive reimbursement costs up to $10,000, specifically for the performing arts center project.

Nixa Mayor Brian Steele asked Liles to look into the waiver, citing some historical precedent for fee waivers between the city and the school district.

"A long time ago, the school district didn't pay any building costs. We did change that about 10 years ago, so that we would charge them not the same fees, but similar fees to what we charge other commercial developments in town," Steele said. "In this one particular instance, due to COVID, the costs that they are incurring from the increase there, I thought this was a good way to give back to our partners at the school district when they needed it."

City Administrator Jimmy Liles said the cost may not rise much, if at all, from the current level of $5,937.50, which the city council could vote to waive so that Nixa Public Schools pays $0. Liles sees some opportunity for the city to recover the costs of the fee waiver and the hit to the Department of Planning and Development budget, especially if the Aetos Center for the Performing Arts grows to having a reasonably full schedule of dates in future years.

"These performances have the potential to bring in several people from outside the community," Liles wrote in a memo to the city council. "Presumably, some of these individuals will shop and dine in the city of Nixa, which could provide a boost to our local economy."

On major commercial projects, the city of Nixa sometimes outsources planning and development work, such as architectural reviews or building permit reviews.

"On a project this large, because of the magnitude of the project and the complexity, we tend to have a third party go out and review those plans for us," Liles said.

Nixa Director of Planning and Development Garrett Tyson explained the consulting service to the city council.

"We use consultants to review commercial building plans to review commercial building plans for compliance with the adopted International Building Codes, which are, of course, mostly geared toward safety," Tyson said.

The Aetos construction project has been awarded to DeWitt Construction, which had 570 days to do the work from the time of the groundbreaking on May 5.

"We're looking at a year and a half to finish this complete project," Kopp said. "This is going to help our students immensely as a high school as we continue to grow, but again, we believe this is a wonderful tool for the community that, hopefully, will continue to breathe life into Nixa."

Recent events, Kopp said, show a general support for the arts.

"We know the arts are alive and well in Nixa. Sucker Days was a great example of that, and we want to continue developing the arts for years to come," Kopp said.

Nixa High School has about 300 students enrolled in band classes. The present band practice room can't accommodate all of those musicians at the same time. Much of the $16 million in the project budget will go toward improving space within the existing high school building.

"Part of the reason we are doing this performing arts center is to renovate our current arts department, so this would include our drama, band and choir," Kopp said.

The plan also calls for more space for people to gather and mingle before and after performances.

"This is really the opportunity for all of our students to celebrate a job well done and have their families greet them," Kopp said.

Kopp also discussed a feature of the project that had not previously been played up to the public. Stairs on the exterior are designed to be used for outdoor performances or lectures, or as an outdoor classroom.

The Aetos facility will open as part of the 2022-2023 school year. Nixa High School will have a theater with approximately 1,100 seats, an additional black box theater, plus renovated practice facilities for band, theater and choir classes. "Aetos" is the Greek word for "eagle," the Nixa High School mascot.

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