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Britt gets grant for seating, grounds upgrades

JACKSONVILLE — A grant that could boost Britt Festivals' seating upgrade and grounds renovation project by as much as $300,000 also will help bring an auxiliary generator system to provide backup lighting after the venue experienced a power outage in August.

M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust of Vancouver, Wash., awarded Britt $100,000 outright and will supply another $100,000 if the festival matches that amount through donations. Benches originally installed 30 years ago will be replaced, seating will increase to 981, and concrete walkways will replace gravel paths.

An Aug. 8 electrical failure that left Jacksonville in the dark resulted in the first-ever cancellation of a Britt concert when patrons were on the hill. Volunteers moved about 2,000 people off the hill, and some parked their cars to light up exits. Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela never made it to the stage.

“The generator will power the PA system and emergency exit lighting,” said Donna Briggs, Britt president and chief executive officer. Providing enough electrical power from generators to provide event lighting is not feasible. “We would be able to get everyone safely out, but we wouldn’t do a show.”

Total project cost has jumped from $1,057,000 to an estimated $1.2 million because of the generator installation and the need to build concrete foundations around trees to protect them.

“We’ve have had to do some special engineering of retaining walls around trees to save the trees,” said Briggs. “That’s added to the expenses.”

More than 300 seats are being added in the upgrade, concrete aisles, stairs and walkways will be installed, and a light pole will replace the light tower. Lawn seating will accommodate 1,200 patrons next year, but little lawn space will be lost as the new benches will be built to stage left near a fence.

A city permit for the project is expected in the next week. The project is part of a master plan agreed to by the city of Jacksonville and Britt in 2006. That plan limits the venue to a maximum of 2,200 spectators.

Work on the project will begin Sept. 20 after the last concert Sept. 17. The first step will be removal of the old seats. Some have been held together with duct tape in recent years, and four had to be eliminated this season. Hardwood benches with a life expectancy of 40 years will be installed next spring before the concert season.

“The Children’s Festival will be able to utilize these new benches,” said Briggs. “The aging population will have better access to reserved seating.”

Concrete work also will be done this fall. Britt Facilities Manager Mike Holcombe will act as general contractor as he did for the food court project this year. Local subcontractors will be used, and bids are being reviewed at this time, said Briggs.

Britt had $933,100 committed for the project — including the $200,000 match challenge — as of this week. A seat sponsorship program had sold 164 seats as of Wednesday, with sponsorships ranging from $250 to $1,500.

The Murdock Trust provided a grant to Britt in 1987 to help fund the current benches, Murdock Project Officer Lorin Dunlop told Briggs. Murdock also granted $220,000 toward creation of the performance garden.

“We think highly of the work of Britt Festival and the opportunities it provides not just for people in Southern Oregon and Northern California but in a broader region,” said Dana Miller, senior program director for grants with the trust. “These facility improvements will certainly make the audience experience that much more pleasurable.”

Information on donations can be found at brittfest.org/seat_sponsorhsip. 

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@ gmail.com