Juneau now faces the need to downsize the second high school. According to a Dec. 10 Juneau Empire article, a committee will vote this Friday between four options regarding the new schools auditorium and gyms. I was very concerned to see options presented that drastically reduce the auditorium's useful size, as well as an option that blends an auditorium with the cafeteria, in what is called an "auditoria."
Before any final decision is made, Juneau residents should be aware how heavily the auditorium at Juneau-Douglas High School is utilized. The school district is obligated to share the auditorium with the community, 50/50, because of a land-swap agreement made in the l980s, which allowed the auditorium to be built. Each spring, we undergo intensive meetings coordinating high school and community auditorium events. Each year student offerings and arts group offerings are compromised because of conflicts in scheduling. Once the school year begins, there is virtually not an available week in the JDHS auditorium. Additionally, the community rental of the auditorium pays for an auditorium manager, who keeps the theater functional and safe, as well as providing technical support for all school and community functions.
The drama and music programs at JDHS are strong, but are increasingly restricted by the auditorium availability. All theater classes, band and orchestra classes are offered at capacity and the choir program continues to grow. Last year, more than 150 students were involved in theatrical productions outside of class. This year more than 60 students auditioned for Jungalbook. Last month we saw 125 students auditioning for Once On This Island, the upcoming Musical. Student interest in music and drama is relentless. That's great. In many schools, drama and music programs provide an alternative school connection for students not involved with sports. Though I am inclusive of all students, I find this to be true at JDHS as well. It saddens me to think that we would build a second high school without a quality performance space, so we could have bigger and better gymnasiums.
Originally, the second high school was to house a 650-seat auditorium. Suggested changes are a 420-seat auditorium, a 285-seat auditorium or the dreaded auditeria, which would seat 600, in retractable steel bleachers. It is my understanding that the auditeria would double as the commons/lunch area. How do you join the acoustical, spatial and technical needs of a theater with the large, open, accessible, non-secured area of a commons/cafeteria? It sounds like a recipe for a large room that provides a sub-par environment for events that require good sound and comfortable seating. Imagine seating in bleachers for any type formal presentation. Are bleachers conducive to concert behavior? Could you sit comfortably and quietly for two or three hours in bleachers? If we build something that compromises sound, security, technical offerings and seating, the new high school end up with an unsatisfactory performance space, no outside renters will use it, and we offer no relief for the downtown high schools auditorium crunch.
We need to consider our students' and our communities need. We need the 420-seat auditorium. The 285-seat auditorium is probably too small to be viable as a rental space. The 420-seat space would provide future students of the Dimond Park high school with a decent venue and provide an auditorium that arts groups would want to rent, allowing us to alleviate pressure at the downtown auditorium for JDHS events. That sounds like win-win to me.
And just for the record, last time I checked, if you want to rent recreational space in Juneau there are more than 11 gyms, four fitness clubs, the National Guard Armory, the Gymnastic Academy, as well as a community owned hockey/tennis rink, ski area, pool and skate park. If you want to put on an arts event, it's either Centennial Hall or the JDHS Auditorium.
If you care about kids, if you care about the arts, if you care about this community, your voice needs to be heard this week. Please join me in lobbying your school board for the 420-seat auditorium to be built in the second high school.
Bethany Bereman teaches drama at Juneau-Douglas High School.