By Yvonne Dennis 246
When Central’s 228th class concluded its 45-year reunion in mid-2014, Class President Steve Kaplan conceived an ambitious legacy idea—challenge himself and classmates to raise $228,000 to gift to the school by the time of their 50th reunion.
Two years later, 228 meets serendipity.
Central’s administration and its alumni network are probing to see whether they can meet a major fund-raising challenge by a wealthy alumnus. The alum would commit $10 million to build a performing-arts center annexed to the school if $10 million in matching funds could be raised.
The committee organizing the 228 effort hasn’t yet decided for what purpose it wants to direct its gift, but the arts-center project has invigorated its drive.
“We thought that Central was diverse in our day and of course that was laughable,” said Kaplan, as members of the planning committee stated their goals for moving forward at the opening of their latest meeting Sunday in Willow Grove. That Central has evolved into more of “a gumbo,” as Kaplan put it, has broad, hopeful implications.
“Regardless of what you think of the politics that are going on and what’s happened to our country over the last 30, 40, 50 years, to some degree it’s a little sad and a little scary. My point is, what is it that we have that we can really believe in? I don’t know that there’s that much but I do know one thing that we can believe in is Central High and we can believe in the hope and promise that that place offers to kids that are now really in need of an opportunity to make something of themselves,” Kaplan said, emotion catching in his voice.
So Kaplan and eight classmates–Nate Abney, Bob Barthelmeh, Mark Bosniak, Alan Gold, Marc Goldberg, Roy Goldman, Stephen Kasloff and Laurence Moskowitz–listened with interest as Central Development Director Lynn Norton Robins told them about the proposed performing-arts center. Robins was hired jointly by Central’s Home and School Association and the Alumni Association in July to develop a comprehensive fundraising plan for the school, with an emphasis on major-gifts development and alumni outreach.
Because of the scope of landscaping changes required for the proposed arts center, and the need for many other upgrades to Central’s 77-year-old building, the original performing-arts idea has morphed into: “Bringing CHS Facilities Up to 21st Century Standards.” Made from a wishlist from Central President Tim McKenna, students and other stakeholders, the plan now includes an approximately 400-seat concert hall, practice areas, an outdoor science classroom, athletic upgrades, a common area to relieve students of the hallway marble on which they currently rest their rear ends and something as elementary as a loading dock for deliveries.
It’s a plan that has direct benefits for the entire student body, Music Department Chairman Ben Blazer told Sunday’s meeting attendees.
“We’re really involving a large cross-section of students,” Blazer said. The department is so much more than just music classes for a couple of dozen micro-focused students. Recently added curriculum offerings include music technology–which involves editing and songwriting –and music theory. “The research is out there, how much of an effect the arts has on learning,” Blazer said.
The number of ensembles in the department has grown, Blazer said. There’s a pep band that performs at the Thanksgiving game and other events. There’s a main choir with around 100 singers, a concert choir of about 40 singers, and the Madrigal singers with 15 members.
This year for the first time the department is putting on a full winter theater performance, “A Christmas Carol.” That’s in addition to the winter concert, a January chamber-music concert and a spring musical. It’s not just performers who make the shows happen but also student set designers and builders.
The more intimate concert hall envisioned for the annex will provide a much better experience for all than the cavernous 1200-seat auditorium in which current students are lucky to even see half full.
All that participation prepares select students to continue performing post-graduation. For the other 97 percent, it can prepare them for careers in health sciences, arts administration and music therapy, Blazer said. And it can give all students a potentially lifelong appreciation for the arts. “I feel like it’s my job to produce the audience members of the future,” Blazer said.
Blazer also used his time with the committee members to express his gratitude and awe at previous alumni generosity.
“The reason we have a music tech lab is alumni support,” he said. As public funding becomes more unpredictable by the year, Blazer said, “a lot of the reason we persist and move forward,” is because of Central alumni. “We have the most incredible high school alumni association around!”
The new arts center “will alleviate space in the school,” he told them. “The areas that we vacate will be repurposed. It’s going to be like a domino effect.” Plus, he said, new world-class performance offerings can tip the city’s best science and math students to choosing Central over other magnet schools. “I believe this will be the best facility in the entire area.”
Alumni Association board member Mark Lipshutz also took time out Sunday to offer his help and guidance to the 228 going forward. A few years ago Mark and fellow members of 224 similarly decided to raise money for a substantial gift to the school.
Alumni won’t be all alone in this effort, as the School District of Philadelphia has committed to providing $8 million in site development funding.
Whatever they decide to do, 228 member Alan Gold said he had one special request.
“The ones that are gone, maybe we should do a memorial for,” Gold said. “A lot of these people are going to be forgotten. The one thing we can say is as long as one of us is around we’re all around.”
Lynn Norton Robins is in the process of exciting as many Central alumni as she can about the enhancement efforts. If you have any questions, would like help with formulating a fund-raising effort for your class or you want to help with the performing-arts effort, please contact Lynn at 215-276-5262, ext. 3130 or email@example.com.