SANFORD — You don’t have to wait for the first production at the new Sanford Performing Arts Center in order to have a seat there. You can have a seat now, if you’d like.

All it’ll cost you is $100, an expense you either can cover yourself or raise with a few friends, family members or coworkers.

There are 854 seats in the performing arts center, which is one of the major attractions built into the new Sanford High School that is currently under construction and is projected to be ready for students and staff this October. Brett Williams, of Sanford High’s Class of 1996, is the center’s director.

The Sanford Schools Legacy Foundation is inviting members of the community to “name a seat and become a permanent part of the new SPAC,” Williams announced in a recent press release. For $100, an individual or a group of people or a company can sponsor one of the center’s seats — an opportunity that will include a small plaque that will be affixed to one of the armrests. The plaque can accommodate three lines of engraved text, each with 24 characters.

The plaque will remain on the armrest for the lifetime of the seat — and, given the quality of the chairs, made locally by Hussey Seating in South Berwick, that could presumably mean “the better part of the next century,” Williams said.

“This is essentially a lifetime naming opportunity,” he added.

Funds raised from the “Have a Seat” campaign, as it is being called, will go toward outfitting the auditorium with equipment and technology not covered by state or local funds. Examples include a grand piano, an online ticketing system, acoustic panels, and a special roll-out rubber floor for dance performances, according to Williams.

The performing arts center, which is expecting to have its first production in December, will offer such entertainment as plays, concerts, comedy shows, dance recitals and more, as both students, members of the community, and professional artists from anywhere in the world will be welcome to showcase their talents there. The auditorium will even have its own entrance from the outside, making it a venue unto itself and not just part of the school. It’ll all be a far cry from the current Sanford High cafeteria and the Memorial Gym, where local students have presented their plays, concerts and other shows for decades.

Even the new center’s name reflects this public approach: in an interview earlier this year, Williams said that the auditorium is called the Sanford Performing Arts Center, and not the Sanford High School Performing Arts Center, because it belongs to the community — the community that approved it with overwhelming support during a special election for the entire high school project in 2015.

About 200 seats already have been sponsored, according to Williams. Sponsors now can select the seats they want online at The site includes a map of the seating arrangements.

“Some sponsors have been asking for seats closest to the stage, while others have been selecting row letters and seat-number combinations that are meaningful to them,” Williams said.

According to Williams, lots of sponsors are choosing to inscribe their plaques with their own name and the year in which they graduated, or will graduate, from Sanford High School. Other sponsors are inscribing the name of their business — Genest Concrete, for example, is showing its support for the new school and local arts by sponsoring a dozen seats in Row G.

“Many are being given as gifts to friends and family, or in memory of a deceased loved one,” Williams said.

Jane Kirton, the chorus director at Sanford High School, is one such recipient of a seat sponsored in her honor. Several of her students pooled their funds and are dedicating a seat to her. The plaque on the armrest will read, “To Jane Kirton, in the twinkling of an eye, you changed our lives forever.”

Those words, “in the twinkling of an eye,” have meaning for Kirton and her students. Kirton and Dr. Morton Gold, of Sanford, once collaborated and created a piece called “In the Twinkling of an Eye.” Kirton wrote the lyrics, and Gold wrote the music.

“I was so overwhelmed that day,” Kirton said, of the moment when her students told her about the seat they were sponsoring. “I tried not to cry.”

Williams said one surprising aspect of the campaign is that lots of students have been visiting his office with small denominations of bills totaling hundreds of dollars to go towards seats they are sponsoring to honor local educators who have had a positive influence in their lives – SHS Band Director Joshua Champagne, for example, and SHS English teacher Nicole Clark, music teacher Heather Hastings, and Dr. Gold, who often plays the piano at school concerts and other presentations, as other examples.

“That’s a tribute to who these kids are,” said Kirton, who emphasizes kindness to her students.

Kirton, a graduate of Sanford High’s Class of 1972, is sponsoring several seats, including ones for her children and her parents, Bernard and Marjorie Chadbourne. She’d also like to name a chair for Agnes Tibbetts, the longtime chorus director in the Sanford School System who inspired Kirton to pursue a career in music education.

According to Williams, one sponsor, who wishes to remain anonymous, is simply having “Kindness matters” inscribed on a plaque on a seat. Williams said that seat is being placed in a high-visibility corner to greet people as they walk into the auditorium.

“It’s the first seat you’ll see,” he said.

The seats have burgundy cushions with accents of vibrant red, one of Sanford High’s colors. The armrests are made of wood, and the space into which plaques will be affixed is “scooped,” so that the plaques will become part of the armrests’ smoothness.

Contributions to the center through the “Have a Seat” Campaign are tax deductible. According to Williams, naming a seat does not imply that its sponsor owns it or can reserve the seat for any performances.

It’s a common practice for new theaters everywhere to invite members of their communities to sponsor seats, but the price is usually steep, in the range of $500 to $1,000, Williams noted. The problem with a cost that high is that it creates an elite “who’s who” list, Williams added. The cost of a seat at the Sanford Performing Arts Center is in step with its mission and purpose.

“In keeping with the Sanford Performing Arts Center’s spirit of inclusivity and accessibility, we are offering seats at just $100 so the investment is affordable for most people in Sanford,” Williams said. “We want every seat to be sponsored, creating a snapshot of Sanford in 2018 for generations to come.”