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Building rentals help school district make ends meet

March 19, 2012

If Franklin Community Schools' performing arts director can entice more dance companies to rent the high school's performing arts center, he can make more money for the district.

Doug Corliss has been making calls and sending emails to local and national dance companies since January, asking them to consider using the 6-year-old performing arts center about 20 miles south of Indianapolis for their shows and competitions.

He promotes the center's 918 seats, the size of the stage and nearby Franklin restaurants and hotels the companies and their audiences can use during performance weekends.

Companies that Corliss persuades to rent the performing arts center will pay between $6,000 and $22,000 to use it for a weekend. That money can be used to help pay school bills.

Corliss, who was hired in October, is in charge of running the lights, sound, stage and other elements of the performing arts center. He works with high school students interested in learning about how to run a theater.

But his biggest responsibility is raising money for the district through performing arts center and middle school rentals.

Franklin is planning to raise $120,000 by renting the performing arts center and middle school auditorium this year — six times what the district made in rental fees four years ago.

Corliss is expected to earn between $200,000 and $250,000 for the district's general fund by 2015, executive director of finance Jeff Mercer said.

Commercial groups who use the performing arts center are charged $300 per hour for rental and $35 per hour for any custodians needed. Churches and other nonprofit groups pay $150 per hour.

At the middle school, the costs are $200 or $100 per hour, depending on the use.

So far Franklin has eight groups scheduled to use the performing arts center this year, and most of them are dance companies. Corliss said dancers are the easiest to book because Franklin has the kind of venue they need.

"It's like, 'Hey, I need a facility,' 'Oh, we have a theater.' Boom, you book it," he said.

The money made through the performing arts center and middle school rentals goes to the district's general fund; $62,175 of it pays for Corliss' salary and benefits as well as performing arts supplies and marketing materials, Mercer said.

The rentals currently booked will bring in $106,804, but Corliss said he's in negotiations with other groups that will bring in additional money.

Franklin isn't the only Johnson County school that rents its buildings. Center Grove made $104,000 in rental and utility fees in 2010, including $40,000 paid by a church renting West Grove Elementary School.

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson has fees in place to recoup utility and custodial from groups who want to rent buildings, but the district doesn't look to rentals as a moneymaker, Superintendent Matt Prusiecki said.

Mercer said the district would like to bring in $200,000 to $250,000 in annual rental fees by 2015. When that happens, the school district can begin earmarking the income for specific projects. Corliss' job is to meet the goal.

"My job here is not to cost the corporation money, it's to make the corporation money," he said.

Along with dance companies, Corliss is hoping to reach rental agreements with more churches in the area.

Journey Church has been using the auditorium, a classroom and a custodian at the middle school since 2009, and their contract with Franklin expires in August.

Corliss is looking into making sure the church stays and has talked with two other churches interested in renting as well.

Franklin has avoided having long-term contracts with churches holding Sunday services in the buildings, but Corliss said he plans to speak with Superintendent David Clendening about whether that will continue.

"I know that's been stated but we are going to have a meeting on the district's philosophy on that," Corliss said.

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