The Omaha Civic Auditorium has launched legions of metro-area kids into adulthood by hosting their high school graduation ceremonies.
The opening of a new arena, and the Civic's closing next year, could mean the start of a new tradition.
Several metro-area school districts have booked spring graduation ceremonies at the Ralston Arena, switching from the Civic and the CenturyLink Center in downtown Omaha.
Westside, Ralston and the two Papillion-La Vista high schools have reserved the $35 million Ralston facility, which opened last year near 72nd and Q Streets.
Graduates from the University of Nebraska Medical Center will also cross the stage there this spring.
Paul Hendrickson, arena general manager, said the Civic's impending demise has school officials looking for alternatives.
“They're probably saying to themselves they're going to end up here at some point, whether it's this year or next year, so probably making the move sooner rather than later is a better move for scheduling,” Hendrickson said.
Officials with the City of Omaha announced in December that the Civic is expected to shut down in June 2014.
The Civic has struggled to keep up with the rise of the CenturyLink Center Omaha and Council Bluffs' Mid-America Center. The auditorium's physical condition has suffered, its finances have fallen into the red and it has lost tenants to the Ralston Arena.
The Omaha district plans to hold high school graduations at the Civic again this year.
Omaha Public Schools spokesman David Patton said OPS has not made plans for next year.
Millard's high schools are scheduled at the Civic this year and next, according to spokeswoman Rebecca Kleeman.
Hendrickson said the Ralston Arena, when configured for a graduation, would seat 3,925, including students. It has 1,167 free parking spaces surrounding the building, with additional on-street parking nearby, he said.
The Civic arena seats about 7,000, and the music hall 2,250.
Annette Eyman, spokeswoman for the Papillion-La Vista Public Schools, said multiple factors prompted its move from the Civic, including cost, convenience and planning ahead for when the Civic is gone.
“We are certainly excited about having a location that is much closer to our families,” she said.
Westside High School is moving its ceremony from the CenturyLink Center.
“It was a great venue,” Westside Principal Maryanne Ricketts said. “It just got to be very expensive. And also, probably even more importantly, the date that we were really looking for graduation they couldn't accommodate. And, of course, Ralston's a lot closer to us, too.”
Ricketts said there aren't a lot of large venues in the Omaha area that can handle the number of family and friends who attend graduation. When at the CenturyLink, Westside's graduation took place in the main arena. A black curtain was drawn across the arena to reduce the seating area.
“We had plenty of seating and a nice holding area for our students, also,” she said.
This year, about 430 Westside seniors will graduate. The school also takes a large band to play at graduation. Each student brings anywhere from a couple of family members to more than a dozen.
For the Ralston school district, moving graduation from the high school was not a necessity, Superintendent Mark Adler said.
The decision was driven, in part, by community spirit, Adler said.
The district is trying to be a good partner with the City of Ralston, he said.
The arena is close by and has good parking and access, he said. About 250 students will graduate.
Graduation is “the pinnacle of what we work for across the entire district,” he said.
Officials want that day to be perfect, for the kids, for the families and school staff, he said.
“So, that's a day we're not going to cut any corners,” he said. “We're going to do anything we can to make it perfect. Moving to the Ralston Arena, such a classy environment, is definitely something we think is going to help us do that.”
The metro area's smaller high schools, and some big ones, hold commencement ceremonies inside their school gymnasiums. This year that's the case for Bellevue East, Bellevue West, Gretna, Platteview, Douglas County West, Bennington, Elkhorn and Elkhorn South.
Commencement for the Council Bluffs Community Schools is scheduled at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs.
Private high schools sometimes use the Orpheum Theater, Joslyn Art Museum or other historic venues.
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