New high school art center looks for corporate sponsor

The center would feature amenities including an art gallery and classroom space.

;WOODBURY (AP) – A top-of-the-line fine arts facility planned for a new Woodbury high school opening could include a black box theater, an art gallery and additional classroom space.

But these amenities don’t come cheap, and the fine arts center could also come with corporate sponsorship.

The Arts Connection, a Washington County-based nonprofit leading the arts center effort, said that corporate naming rights could be a way to help raise the $1.5 million in pledges it needs by March 1 – a seeming first for public schools in Minnesota. Officials at two state education associations and prominent arts educators don’t recall any precedent.

In exchange for the land, students at the planned East Ridge High School, set to open in 2009, would be able to use the art center throughout the year. It would be adjacent to a 900-seat theater already planned for part of the school.

The Arts Connection has already received a $1.6 million pledge, which it will use as an endowment for operational costs. The additional donations being sought are for building costs.

The group has no sponsorship offers yet, and only elements of the fine arts center – not the high school theater – would take on a corporate name. School district officials are open to the idea.

“My personal belief is districts have to look at it,” board chairman Ron Kath said. “Donors aren’t looking at a big marquee. It’s a great way to show how private businesses can partner with public schools.”

Public schools statewide are looking for ways to increase funding. This fall, a hundred districts are asking voters to approve referendums for higher property tax levies, and 32 districts are holding bonding elections to finance new schools, additions or other construction.

Raising money for school construction projects by selling naming rights has caught on in other parts of the country. In 2004, the Philadelphia school district sold naming rights to a high school for $5 million, and in the last two years high schools in Michigan and Wisconsin offered up the names of playgrounds, stadiums and lunchrooms.

Corporate tie-ins at public schools only became legal in Minnesota in 2003, and some school athletics teams play in local community centers that carry names of corporations.

Minnesota Education Theater Association president Gregg Sawyer praised the East Ridge project for finding an innovative way to include fine arts space, but he disagreed with the idea of students performing in a corporate-sponsored facility.

“Corporations have so many other opportunities,” he said. “You walk into the Guthrie Theater, you see the Target lounge. I think it can be problematic for schools.”