Empire editorial: School needs worthy performance hall

Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2004

Juneau school planners have a big job ahead of them, and perilous ground to tread. As they configure a downsized high school for the Mendenhall Valley, one proposal would conserve space by combining an auditorium and commons into an "auditeria" with a stage at one end and fold-up bleachers at the other. Creativity is advised, but not to the point of creating a second-class school.

In rejecting a previous design that was bigger, Juneau voters forced planners to look at options to meet the new constraints and still build a school to make Valley residents and students proud. It may not be easy, but it is now necessary. When campaigning for the second high school, district officials and their supporters assured the public that they could build a school offering an equal educational opportunity. Giving Valley students a worthy venue for performance and assembly is a crucial start.

Besides the likelihood that a multiple-use auditorium would lack proper acoustics, it could be cramped, without even a backstage area for performers. The situation could be ugly not only for student performers but for anyone who was hoping for a Valley outlet for community events and performances. Juneau-Douglas High School arts backers have pointed out that the downtown campus's auditorium already is overbooked, and that they were hoping for some relief at the new school. Building a second high school that casts a jealous eye toward the existing school's auditorium could exacerbate the problem instead of alleviating it.

Also in the potential downsizing mix are a main gym and an auxiliary gym. The main gym as envisioned would rival JDHS in seating, and athletics boosters rightly argue for such a space, sufficient for growth. But the price of that arena might be the auxiliary gym, where, for instance, volleyball matches could proceed while the main gym is otherwise occupied. A decision to go without the auxiliary gym would be painful, but preferable to building a half-baked performance hall that takes up space without really achieving its mission.

Whatever the design, it must provide first-rate spaces both for athletics and the arts. Anything less will needlessly divide the city further instead of helping to build healthy competition.

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