Bond spotlights auditorium’s flaws
Forensics and English teacher Ken Church said it was a shock for him to find out Lansing High School did not have an auditorium when he started working in the district 13 years ago.
"I was a little amazed when I came here that they didn't have anything," he said.
Church said that in his past high school teaching jobs in Concordia and Oskaloosa, he "didn't think of it as being odd" to have a high school auditorium; in fact, he said, the auditorium is often the focal point of these and other rural communities he has visited.
Lansing School District has proposed a $23.6 million dollar bond issue, $4.4 million of which is designated to build a high school auditorium and an adjoining band room. The remainder of the bond proposal, $19.2 million, would build a new elementary school to hold all of the district's kindergarten through fifth-grade classes. The bond referendum will go before voters on April 5.
The high school currently uses the auditorium at Lansing Intermediate School, the district's former high school. The auditorium, built in 1963, seats 250 people. LIS principal Jan Jorgensen said the back two rows of seats were removed to make a platform for wheelchair access.
Jorgensen said she felt lucky to have the auditorium because it's not something every elementary school had. However, from Church's perspective, the conditions in the auditorium are "substandard."
Church said it's not that he's against the current auditorium, it's that it doesn't fit the needs of the high school. He said that though the space had been used for play productions, the facilities were insufficient and potentially dangerous.
Church said lighting at the auditorium caused many problems. Last summer, he said, the drama department spent $500 and the district spent $5,000 to upgrade and install new lighting. The old lighting was hazardous, he said.
The electrical flow and old equipment also concerns him, Church said. He said there was tape on the dimmer switches to keep the light board operator from pushing the lights into full range and blowing fuses.
"It's a nightmare as a director to have students running it and wonder, 'Is it safe?'" he said.
Church said he had tried to increase the lighting capacity in the auditorium, but there was nothing more he could do because he has maxed out all of the circuits.
"I always try to add just a little more lighting, but Dale Bohannon (director of building and grounds for Lansing schools) tells me there are no circuits left," Church said.
In addition, Church said the backstage area in LIS was too small for student productions. There is a makeup area, he said, but there are no full walls to contain the noise of students backstage. To solve this problem, Church said his students put on their makeup for plays in his classroom, which is on the second floor of the high school, and then walked over to the auditorium when they were ready.
The other performing arts at the school, band and choir, cannot utilize the auditorium at all because it is too small for both the groups and for their audiences.
Jonnie Brice, LHS choir director, said the risers for the 150 choir members didn't fit on the stage at the LIS auditorium. The choir instead uses the high school gym for its performances. Brice said there are usually enough guests at choir concerts to fill one side of the gym, which would exceed the capacity of the auditorium.
School Board President Shelly Gowdy half-jokingly refers to the high school gym as the "gymnatorium."
Brice and Church said the LIS stage was also too small to put on a quality musical. Musicals require large casts and, generally, elaborate sets, Church said. He said in performing on the LIS stage, directors had to choose between cast or set because it's not large enough for both. Brice agreed.
"The stage is way small," she said. "If you put a cast of 30 up there, they'd be tripping over each other."
Church added that musicals also required a pit orchestra, a provision that the LIS auditorium lacks.
Deb Steiner, band director for the middle and high schools, said her band students would be packed shoulder to shoulder if she tried to fit the 70-member concert band onstage. Therefore, the band also holds its concerts in the gym.
Steiner came to the Lansing district this fall from Gardner Edgerton High School. She said that community had built a new high school in 2001 with a state-of-the-art band room that included recording equipment in the ceiling. It was more than adequate, she said. Though the LMS band room is fairly new, the LHS band room, which is shared with the choir, was quite a downgrade, she said.
"It's kind of like going from the Cadillac to the Ford," she said.
Some of the main problems with the current high school band room, Steiner said, are the lack of space and storage. During the first half of the year when more than 100 students are practicing for the marching band, the scene in the band room is "wall-to-wall kids," she said.
Steiner said she was also uncomfortable with the lack of storage space. She said the band's percussion instruments, including marching bass drums, bells, chimes, xylophone and timpani, sit out in the back of the room because there is no closet in which to put them. This is a concern, Steiner said, because there is no way for her to make sure the instruments - which she said are the most expensive and are owned by the high school - don't get damaged during the day when they are not being used. In addition to needing space for the school's instruments, Steiner said band students needed a place in the band room to store their instruments during the day.
Despite the tight spaces, Steiner said that the acoustics in the band room are fine; the problem is that the concerts are held in the gym.
"They are two different situations," she said. "But I wouldn't want that room to sound like a gym."
An auditorium would have the proper acoustic set up for a musical performance, but the venue could be used for more than just music, Steiner said. She said an auditorium would be a good venue for any assembly. She said students tended to behave better when they were in an auditorium than in a gym.
"The setting is more formal, so people perceive the event as more formal," she said. "We try to use the auditorium as much as possible so we don't have to control them."
Church added other possible uses for a new auditorium, including performances from traveling artists or local theatre groups.
"So much good could come out of it," he said of the auditorium. "It should be used a lot - it shouldn't sit around."
Though Church is full of ideas for the potential new venue, Lansing's voting history brings him back to reality. The auditorium was cut from the plans when the high school was built in 1988, and the last bond issue was voted down in 2003.
"Understanding that it was rejected twice makes me less optimistic," he said.
For now, Church has resigned himself to the current climate in Lansing toward the arts. He said he would not put on a play next year due to the challenges in the auditorium and the lack of community support.
"People don't think it's that important," he said. "If you think this is a major part of education, show us. Show me the money."