Gyms, auditorium compete

Posted: Monday, December 20, 2004

Supporters of performing arts and athletics are concerned about some of the tradeoffs designers are thinking of for the Dimond Park high school.

The issues are on hold as planners deal with state rules that might further reduce the school's usable space. (See New school faces cuts.) But at some point planners likely will have to wrestle with competing claims for space in the Mendenhall Valley school.

Under options presented by the architectural firm Minch Ritter Voelckers, the auditorium would seat 285 or 420 students, or be combined with the commons and seat 600 for performances.

The Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium seats about 1,000. The Dimond Park school that voters rejected in May was to have an auditorium that held 600 people.

Under the options, the main gym at Dimond Park would seat conservatively 1,200, 1,400 or 1,600 spectators. The auxiliary gym would be 4,100 square feet or 6,250 square feet or not exist.

George Houston, the JDHS boys basketball coach, said it's difficult to add to inadequate space once it's built. He'd like to see large gyms built.

"Once they build an inadequate facility, they're stuck with an inadequate facility forever," he said.

The larger auxiliary gym would allow for two volleyball courts, said schools Superintendent Peggy Cowan.

It's not clear how many people the JDHS main gym holds because bleachers can fit widely varying numbers depending on the girth of spectators. The gym also includes a balcony that pep bands use. The seating probably varies from 1,200 to 1,650, architect Paul Voelckers said.

The Dimond Park option most similar in size to the JDHS gym is 12,200 square feet and conservatively seats 1,400, he said.

But that option has a 285-seat auditorium. That's too small, said JDHS drama teacher Bethany Bereman and other art supporters in interviews.

"I think 420 is the minimum size we can go with," she said. "Smaller than that it gets into the stage it becomes smaller and compromises what you can do with it, and then you have to extend your runs to make your money."

School plays must make back the cost of performing rights, sets, costumes and technical support. If plays run for more performances, fewer students will want to participate, Bereman fears, because the plays will overlap with other activities students could be doing.

A 420-seat theater is about right for the vocal powers of students and it would suit most school and community needs, said Toby Clark, a former JDHS auditorium manager.

A high school student's voice can carry without amplification in a theater of about 500 seats, he said. It's desirable for students to learn to project their voices without using microphones, he said.

Planners are considering an auditeria - a combined theater and commons/cafeteria - because it allows for the most performing space and the most gym space, Cowan said.

If the space is used as a cafeteria/commons during the day, it would have limited use for rehearsals and classes, Clark said.

"The cringe factor of the auditeria is: What is the stage?" he added.

The answer can vary. The new South Anchorage High School has an auditeria with good lighting and acoustics, a full stage, wings and an orchestra pit, said Assistant Principal Pat Walker. The seats have backs and are padded. The only complaint so far is that some of seating at the side has obstructed views, she said.

The auditeria has been used for musical concerts, plays, lectures and community forums. When the seats retract, the floor is flat. The school uses other space for dining.

In contrast, the auditeria at Dimond High School in Anchorage doesn't work as well, Voelckers said.

The floor has three broad platforms of flat seating used for dining, concerts and theater. The stage has a full fly, to hang scenery, and the ceiling is designed to improve acoustics. But a kitchen sits on one side, covered by big metal doors when it's not in use.

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