Mehlville School District buys land for future Oakville High auditorium, but it won’t happen any time soon

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

The Mehlville School District has purchased a house next to Oakville High School that could serve as the future site of the school’s first auditorium — but there are currently no plans to actually build what would be the district’s second auditorium.

The district closed June 1 on the purchase of 2.2 acres at 5501 Milburn Road for $400,000, including a home and detached garage. The property backs up to Oakville High School. The final vote to buy the land was made in closed session at a special meeting of the Mehlville Board of Education May 27.

The longtime previous owners of the property, noted St. Louis auctioneer Robert Merry and his wife, Veda, both died in recent years.

“The community has asked repeatedly for an auditorium at Oakville High School,” said Superintendent Chris Gaines. “This property provides land necessary for this type of facility in the future.”

Although the purchase provides space for future auditorium construction, there are currently no plans in the works to actually build an auditorium in Oakville — even with the passage in April of the district’s first bond issue since 1992, Proposition S.

The entire school district had no auditorium until the district’s first auditorium was built at Mehlville High School in 2013. The auditorium is theoretically shared between the two high schools and among all the district’s schools, but in reality, Oakville students have found it difficult to use for their productions since they have to schlep their props and sets across town.

In the years since the MHS auditorium opened, Oakville parents and others have pointed out the inequity in having an auditorium at one high school and none at the other. One of those who has made that point as a student in 2015 was then-OHS senior Patrick McKelvey, who was elected to the school board this year unopposed. He was part of the vote for the potential auditorium land May 27.

Gaines said he has heard the suggestion frequently since he took the top job in 2015, and it makes sense when comparing the district to other high schools.

One of the things that I think about and talk about sometimes is where else in the region are you going to find a high school of that size without an auditorium?” Gaines said. “It’s kind of an anomaly to not have an auditorium.”

An Oakville High auditorium was part of a $237 million list of long-term facilities needs developed by a Facilities Steering Committee comprised of parents, teachers and community members that toured every school over 18 months and examined facilities needs ahead of the bond issue.

But the district pared down the $237 million list of “wants” to a $35 million list of needs to focus on with the 12-cent bond issue, and the Oakville auditorium didn’t make the cut.

Although any property around district schools is on officials’ radar, Gaines said that the sale came about in a “very random” way, with an email sent asking if the district was interested in buying. Talks have continued since late fall.

As for whether the Oakville auditorium will ever be built, Gaines said he told OHS band director Vance Brakefield that it may not happen before Brakefield retires. The top-tier Prop S projects funded by the bond issue, such as secure entry vestibules, will tie up the district’s capital resources through at least 2024.

If the time ever comes for the theater to be built, however, the topography of the land just purchased could help: The site slopes downward, which could help with the natural fit of the auditorium. The district has not had architects or engineers look into specific sites for an OHS auditorium since it’s never been more than just an idea.

But we think that has the potential to be a good location,” Gaines said, joking, “Maybe someone might develop, or maybe there already is, the Oakville Community Theater or something like that.”

The building would be separate from Oakville High School, which could encourage use by the surrounding elementary schools and middle schools, including Oakville Elementary, Blades Elementary, Wohlwend Elementary and Oakville Middle School, the superintendent said.