Memorial Auditorium is a Wellington landmark, a nearly 100-year-old building binding the community’s past with its present and potential future.
“It’s a solid building,” Jeremy Jones, Wellington director of public works, said. “However, it does require maintenance.”
The primary upgrading the Memorial Auditorium Board would like to see is the addition of air conditioning, which would enable more late spring and summer entertainment to take place in the building.
“We’ve got to use that facility for what it’s been built for,” Pam Hinman, a member of the board, said. “It’s a public facility that’s being under used because we don’t have the right central heating and air conditioning.”
Jones said “the events we do have would be much more comfortable inside” with air conditioning. “It could cool the facility off.
There is around $40,000 in the air conditioning fund with a total cost estimate of between $250,000 and $300,000 for its addition, Jones said.
The recent New Year’s Eve gala in the building brought in $7,626 through donations, ticket sales, a live auction and a silent auction. All those proceeds go into the air conditioning fund. The amount brought in this year was a bit under what was raised in the past two years that a holiday gala has taken place in the building, Jones said. Last year, just over $9,000 was raised.
Attendance was slightly down at the recent gala, the first one held on New Year’s Eve, Jones said. He attributed the attendance dip to illness and families, particularly those with young children, staying home on New Year’s Eve.
Still, Jones was happy with the turnout of 80 to 90 people.
“Those who did attend were phenomenal,” he said. “I was very happy with that performance.”
The Memorial Auditorium Board did not make any decisions about next year’s gala at its meeting last week, but it is looking at such options as scheduling the gala earlier in the holiday season and having it be more casual, keeping it on New Year’s Eve or having two celebrations - one earlier in the season and one on New Year’s Eve, Jones said.
In 2011, the building was updated to meet ADA compliance with the carpet and paint schemes date specific to the original design and the elevator in the least intrusive place, Jones said.
“Everyone was very cognizant of the origins of the building,” Jones said.
The building has a 1,200 plus capacity auditorium including a stage with office and lobby space in the front of the building. The City contracts with the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce, located in the facility, for the management and scheduling of events in the Auditorium.
The City contracts with the Wellington Recreation Center for the daily routine maintenance tasks at the facility. The Public Works Director is responsible for the overall maintenance and upkeep of the facility.
The Sumner County Historical and Genealogical Society utilizes a space in the facility, and The Veteran’s Room, a small museum dedicated to the Veterans in Sumner County, is located there. The Veteran’s Room is open to visitors on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day and at other times as scheduled.
Memorial Auditorium was built after the end of World War I. Wellington Attorney Ed had the idea for the building in December of 1918, saying Wellington needed to have “a building that will be of service to the people of the city”. He said, “Above all things, we need an auditorium and a gymnasium”.
In January of 1919, a committee was formed to guide the building of an auditorium to serve as a memorial to Wellington and Sumner County soldiers. In April of that year, the mayor signed a resolution for the voters to issue $140,000 in bonds. That same month, the people voted to build “Liberty Hall”, which later came to be known as “Memorial Auditorium”. Construction began November 13, 1921 and was completed approximately one year later for a cost of $137,488.41.
Hinman said Memorial Auditorium has been “a part of so many people’s lives. We used to have proms and basketball games there.”
Maintaining and preserving the historic building is a “passion,” she said.