Shell announces $5M gift for Lafon center

With more than 300 people at the $34 million Dr. Rodney R. Lafon Performing Arts Center ribbon cutting Saturday, Shell Norco General Manager Brett Woltjen announced the company’s $5 million endowment.

“It gives me great pleasure to join you in front of this state-of-the-art performing arts center and commend you on realizing a vision that will serve as an educational and cultural hub for students, the community and the region,” Woltjen said.

With Shell’s 90-year history in Norco and the parish, he said the company considers itself an integral part of the community and has long been committed to supporting education and investing in its youth.

Woltjen made an announcement that made the crowd gasp.

“Shell Norco will be making a legacy gift in the amount of $5 million over the next several years for the establishment of an endowment to allow for the sustainability of current and future programs,” he said. “Our hope is that this gift will provide additional resources to the performing arts experiences held in this theatre.”

Shell spokeswoman Rochelle Touchard said the endowment will be set up where interest from the base amount will be used toward sustaining the center’s current and future programs.

“The hope is that Shell’s initial contribution to this endowment will prompt an annual fundraising campaign whereby others will help to grow the endowment resulting in positive impacts to the center,” Touchard said.

School officials and Shell representatives will soon complete details of the endowment, which they hope to finalize by year’s end.

“Through the endowment gift, the 1,304-seat theatre within the Dr. Rodney R. Lafon Performing Arts Center will be named ‘The Shell Theatre’ for an initial 20-year period,” Touchard said. “At the conclusion of the 20th year, a minimum annual promissory gift of $50,000 will be made to the endowment maintaining the naming rights in perpetuity.”

At the ceremony, Superintendent Felecia Gomez-Walker thanked Shell for its continued support and invited the public to visit the Shell Theatre when they toured the center.

“We are prepared to officially open the doors to a magnificent facility that offers educational experiences for our students, as well as performances and demonstrations in the visual, musical and theatrical arts for, not only our students, but inviting the entire community to celebrate our culture,” Gomez-Walker said.

Although the theater seats are weeks away from being installed and dedicating the building to Lafon has also been postponed to a later date, Gomez-Walker said they were celebrating his dream for a performing arts center.

School Board President Al Suffrin praised the ribbon cutting as marking the day the arts center becomes a reality, a vision that began years ago with then Superintendent Dr. Rodney R. Lafon.

Lafon’s wife, as well as family, joined in the ceremony.

“As I stand in front of this magnificent facility, I am called to reflect upon the path that has led us to this special day,” Suffrin said.

It started in 2012, with a list of projects the school system hoped to accomplish through the passage of a bond issue, he said. At the time, eliminating portable buildings throughout the district was a top priority so construction of a performing arts center was postponed. Three years later, building a performing arts center became a priority.

“Our community supported the passage of a bond issue allowing this state-of-the-art center to be built for our students, teachers, community and region,” Suffrin said. “We are blessed to have a community that supports public education and recognizes the value of the arts.”


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