(Seguin) -- The Seguin High School's state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center will soon be outfitted with a new concert piano. The sound of the overall price tag for that piano, however, wasn't all music to the ears for some members of the Seguin ISD Board of Trustees. The board on Tuesday voted 5 to 2 in favor of purchasing the $134,000 concert piano from Steinway Piano Gallery in San Antonio. Voting against the purchase were trustees Carl Jenkins and Elaina Reihl.
Jenkins stated that he couldn't support the piano when some elementary schools still needed white boards in the classrooms. Plus, he felt that such a large purchase should impact more kids. Seguin ISD Superintendent Matthew Gutierrez says while it is a rather large purchase, the piano was always designed to be a part of the new performing arts center.
Dr. Gutierrez says he believes the instrument will serve as a key component to the future success of thousands of children in the years to come.
"It was part of the original plan and intention for that building, part of the bond package and there is space for it. So there was an original plan when we took that package to the voters with the intention of having a grand piano. What we want to do in Seguin is we want to make sure that we stay on the competitive edge in all areas and one is fine arts and I've noticed that our community has invested tremendously in fine art through financial support and obviously our fine arts program does very well. This is a piano that will last for at least 50 years. It's going to outlive all of us here in this room and so when you look at the cost of that piano per year for 50 years -- as (Trustee) Mr. (John) Holt indicated, about $2,700 we're investing to enhance our choir program, our band program. We want to be a destination district. We want to be a district that is able to host competitions and yes, we've got this performing arts center, but we're going to be crossed out and overlooked because we don't have that grand piano," said Gutierrez.
Mark Buley, Seguin ISD director of Fine Arts, helped provide the board with an overview for the purchase. Buley was tasked with trying to find the best deal for the district. In doing so, the proposed product forwarded to the district was much less than the other documented prices of $165,000 to $180,000 and more.
Buley says the piano will benefit hundreds of kids and programs not only at the high school but at both middle schools who will also be performing at the new auditorium. He says with the new piano, it will offer lots of opportunities to the students in the district's fine arts programs.
"Those groups need a piano. I know several of you have been to our choir concerts this year in the performing arts center. We have a state-of-the art facility and when you go, you're hearing the accompaniment by an upright piano that is about
30-years-old. Our average age of our pianos in the district right now which are all uprights is 37-year-old. So we did an inventory analysis with an expert this past year and got those numbers. Our oldest piano is a converted player piano from 1927. Our newest ones were purchased in about 2004. We have a state-of-the-art facility and to be able to benefit completely from that state-of-the-art facility for our students, for our community, we need to have it outfitted with the grand piano. That was part of our design specs," said Buley.
During his presentation to the school board, Buley mentioned that the performing arts center also has an empty room slated for a future piano lab. Buley says that piano lab has not yet been equipped or utilized. He says the lack of funding, plus not having the right teacher in place have prevented the establishment of the piano lab. Once up and running, Buley says the piano lab would serve maybe 15 students at a time and he compared that to the hundreds of students that will be impacted by the purchase of the new concert piano.
Reihl says her opposition to the purchase of the piano has nothing to do with her support for the fine arts department. She says it just comes down to the bottom line.
"It was a cost thing for me and I have had constituents express their concern to me about the cost. I hadn't known about the piano lab, but that brought in another concern for me. I would like to see the piano lab. But actually, I would like to see the piano lab funded first. I understand the need for both, but I think they could go together. I would just like to see just more bidding, trying to get a better price. I just think that's a lot of money and my priorities are getting the students the basic needs that they need first," said Reihl.
As for the purchase, Dr. Gutierrez says he believes it is an investment in students and an investment in the facilities and programs that serve them.
"We do have the money. We could've moved it back into our general operating fund and reallocated it somewhere else, but if that was part of the original plan, I certainly want to respect that. I was not here. I was not part of that decision making, but I want to respect that process, but also acknowledge that we want to be a destination district. In order to do that, sometimes it's going to come at a cost. I understand the concern as Mr. Jenkins said. He was concerned about elementary (schools) and I completely understand that. But there are some things and I've kept that in mind -- there are some things that I'm doing and I'm working with my team to do with some cost savings that we're going to have to be able to put some programs in place at the elementary. I don't want to share it quite yet, but we're looking at putting some unique and innovative programing at our elementary schools to give us a competitive edge. Not only will those programs be good for student achievement, but we also want to do things that are unique and different from our neighboring school districts. So, we certainly have some things that we have planned for elementary schools," said Gutierrez.
Dr. Gutierrez says the purchase of the piano has already drawn plenty of interest from outside groups who want to utilize the piece of equipment and the performing arts center.
"We'll be able to also bring in a little bit of revenue, but what I don't want people to forget is that we are investing in our kids. So it's more than just bringing in revenue, because we're going to be able to rent the facility because we have that grand piano and that will help with some of the costs, but most importantly, we're investing in kids. We're talking about 700 kids who are involved in fine arts. That's huge. We have 7,500 kids in our school district. So that's about 10 percent and when you look at just secondary, that's 20 percent of our student population. This will impact our community for many years to come. As Mr. Buley indicated, we'll have the opportunity to host the area opera. I've never seen an opera. Of course, I talk about my impoverished background. As a child to be able to afford that opportunity to our students, you really can't put a price tag on," said Gutierrez.
With Tuesday night's approval by the school board, the 9 foot long, hand crafted piano is slated to arrive on the SHS campus soon. District officials say protocol for use of the piano will strictly be under the direction of an adult, ensuring its preservation for at least the next 50 years.