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Community members speak out against tickets for Florence high school graduation

Florence Center (WPDE)

A group of eight community members spoke out against tickets being issued to attend high school graduation ceremonies during a news conference Tuesday morning in front of the Florence School District One (FSD1) office on Dargan Street in Florence.

FSD1 is giving out 10 tickets to graduating seniors to share with family and friends for upcoming commencement ceremonies for Wilson, West Florence and South Florence High Schools at the Florence Center.

FSD1 sent home a letter to parents stating the change.

The letter says the "Florence Center has finished its remodeling process which has reduced their parking area."

FSD1 referred us to the Florence Center for additional information.

Florence Center Director of Marketing Nick Hooker released the following release on the matter:

The main reason is for safety and security. This day and age, we can no longer allow just anyone into the facility with access to the students and faculty. We must closely regulate who enters the facility, thus the implementation of the ticketing system. This has been in discussion with the school system, police dept., SLED, multiple emergency organizations, etc. for several years now. Each school is provided 4K tickets. You will have to contact the school district to see how they are handling distribution.

Bishop Tony McElveen and other community members met with officials with the Florence Center Tuesday morning.

McElveen said it's not right that the venue wants to limit seating for the graduation ceremonies.

"That's posing a humongous problem in the community. Because now you are telling family members that they are prohibited from coming, sharing this moment with their loved one. There are many family members that will not be able to be at the high school graduations of their loved ones, of their family members about this new ruling. We are upset about this and we want it changed," said McElveen.

McElveen and the group said their meeting with Florence Center officials was very enlightening and they learned more seating could be made available for the graduation ceremonies.

"Now we got great information today concerning the district office. The floor plan that the district passed on to the civic center, it eliminated over 6,000 seats that can be utilized, but now they're taking away. So it's limited to only 4,000 people that can come in and watch the graduations," said McElveen.

Elder James Williams with LifeLine Plus said he initially thought it was the Florence Center that had put a limit on seating capacities.

"The information that was originally put out at people kind of thinking that the Florence Center had orchestrated kind of movement to disenfranchise parents participating in their children's graduation. And extended family and all of that. And we were concerned," said Williams.

Hooker said even though the facility may be able to accommodate more people, they've always had 4,000 seats available for the high school graduations.

Hooker said nothing has changed this year but going to a ticketing system.

He issued the following statement to us in an email about seating capacities at the venue:

Any and every event has a max capacity based on the set-up requirements, staging, production needs, room layout, ingress/egress, safety zones, equipment dimensions and several other factors. For graduation, the available seating is 4,000, same as previous years, just with introduction of tickets because of the growing class sizes, forecasted attendance increase, set-up requirements, capacity restraints and safety concerns.

Community members said the Florence Center has allowed them to a use a room at the facility Sunday at 5 p.m. for an open forum to further discuss the matter.

Several students and parents have appealed to the FSD1 school board to intervene and allow more than 10 tickets to be issued per graduating student or to do away with the tickets altogether.

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