Senators stop at Chatfield Center for the Arts on bonding tour

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS Chatfield hosted an entourage of Minnesota senators last Wednesday. The group toured the Chatfield Center for the Arts and heard information about what would be done with bonding funds if the CCA were to be given a second grant.

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS The tour concluded in the old gymnasium, where Chatfield Mayor Russ Smith showed the group a war bonds poster that he likened to the art center.

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS Kay Spangler shows the women's suffrage exhibit in the art gallery on the first floor of the Chatfield Center for the Arts.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

“I’d like you to stop and take a look at that door,” said Michael Martin, standing in the link between Potter Auditorium and the 1916 school building at the Chatfield Center for the Arts (CCA), “because right now, there are four people in that doorway having a conversation, and we have to get 650 people through that door. That’s why I’m able to ask for $9.78 million.”

Martin, a volunteer representing the CCA, addressed the Minnesota Senate Bonding Committee last Wednesday afternoon as the city of Chatfield, CCA, Chatfield EDA and other local entities entertained the committee’s members on the 2019 fall bonding tour. Local officials had put in a request for $9.78 million to overhaul and expand the connecting space between the historic Depression-era auditorium and its accompanying schoolhouse. 

“In 2015, it would have been just under $7 million, but in two years, it’ll be $10.5 million,” Martin said. “Our promise has always been that if you give us the funding, we won’t bother you again.”

Chatfield City Clerk Joel Young had greeted the entourage at the steps of Potter Auditorium, accompanied by Mayor Russ Smith and members of Chatfield’s City Council.  He directed the senators to the stage for a grand view of the auditorium, stood with them for a photograph, then highlighted, “In 2014, you gave us a grant for $5 million and it was directed at this building.  Most of the work was for mechanical work, heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC).  We’ve used vendors from 18 different districts, so the money doesn’t stay here.  Hardly any of that has stayed here.” 

Young outlined the 2015 construction project’s timeline, sharing with the senators that Potter Auditorium was completed just in time for the 2016 Wits’ End Theatre Western Days production. 

“We’re ready and capable, and even more ready,” he said. “This auditorium is now home to a very active theatre group…there are events held in this place organized by the CCA, and people who live throughout the region come to enjoy things on this stage.  It also gets financial support from the city of Chatfield, Wits’ End Theatre and the Chatfield School District.  If you’ll direct your attention to those doors, at intermission, all 650 people have to go through those doors to go to the restroom and to get concessions.”

State Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester) commented, “When you invest in Chatfield, you invest in a great community.” 

State Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), who represents the Olmsted County side of Chatfield, reiterated what she’s said about Chatfield in the past – “Chatfield’s the ‘get ‘er done community.’” 

The tour continued, of course, through the Potter Auditorium doors to the link that has had new restrooms and an elevator installed but still lacks room to accommodate people’s egress from the auditorium, a door to the outside to avoid concert and arts programming attendees from having to travel the entire length of the school building hallway from the box office entrance on the north, as well as room for concessions to be sold. 

“The majority will be spent right here, from that door to this wall (where double doors close off the 1916 building northward), because this is all the space we’ve got for events,” Martin elaborated on the proposal for the link’s renovations. “It’s nice to have people in the seats, but concessions are where you make your money.  And we need mechanical upgrades.  When this was built in 1916, the price of coal was $1 per ton, so you don’t insulate a building when fuel is that cheap.  They purposely designed this building so that the heat would go up to the roof, melt the snow and carry it down to the ground.  The roof is not designed to carry any kind of snow load.”

Young and Martin led the senators to the American Legion Room, the place where the bulk of smaller events are hosted.  Young stated that the room was the first to be finished when volunteers tackled the CCA’s overhaul after the building was decommissioned as a school 11 years ago and that it was named for Chatfield’s American Legion because the local Legion post was the first to contribute to the project. 

“They gave $6,000 or so to our cause, and at that time, you could not walk upstairs due to asbestos abatement,” he said. “With that $6,000 and the Fillmore County Sentence to Serve here to pull out the staples in the floor, this has become a very intimate setting for a very incredible concert series, The Chosen Bean concert series that is in its 11th season.  People can’t wait to come back for the next season if they’ve been to one of the concerts.  This is also where we serve concessions.”

CCA, Inc., board president Carla Gallina invited the legislators to travel upstairs to the art studio where youth from Chatfield United Methodist Church had worked for two weeks a couple of summers ago to transform it from a drab old classroom to a vibrant venue for creative ventures to take place. 

Down the hall, a double room with vintage skylights and original woodwork on the ceiling and walls awaits renovation, and back downstairs, Chatfield League of Women Voters (LWV) member Kay Spangler and fellow LWV members greeted the senators with information on the traveling exhibit on women’s suffrage that has been on loan from the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) for the past weeks, telling them about the LWV and how the use of the art gallery room has been important to making the exhibit’s stop in Chatfield possible. 

Smith commented on the room’s too-toasty temperature, a symptom of the CCA’s not having an updated HVAC system that provides even heating and cooling.  “It’s hard to regulate the temperature throughout,” he said. “In January, if we have something here, we have the windows open.  That’s why the bulk of the next project will be HVAC.”

The tour concluded in the gymnasium, most recently used as a school library before the renovation process was begun, and it was there that Smith showed the senators a World War I war bonds poster he purchased at a garage sale. 

“I found something at a garage sale.  This is a perfect poster for war bond stamps, but what else is this?  It’s art.  Art stirs the imaginations of people. This building was two years old when this poster was made, and it was built for stirring the imaginations of children, for educating Chatfield’s youth…the poster is 111 years old, and it’s got a little Scotch tape on it, is going to need a little restoration work.  It’ll take some work, but like this poster, this building will last hopefully another 100 years.”