The Mequon-Thiensville School District (MTSD) Board of Education has voted to place an $18.2 million referendum on the April 7, 2015 ballot to address a number of significant facility needs. While a 2012 facilities conditions report from Plunkett Raysich Architects (PRA) deemed all MTSD buildings to be in good structural condition, the District has identified several capital improvement needs that must be addressed in the very near future.
While there are many things on the list for all the schools, one thing that concerns us is the James Barr Auditorium. The district website says, “MTSD hopes to upgrade the Homestead Performing Arts Center to make the stage and washrooms American with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible. Individuals in wheelchairs are currently unable to access the washrooms.” While I love the title, our auditorium is far from the level of a performing arts facility. Everything that makes the auditorium performable was added after it was build in the 70’s. Mr. Dixon, Wayne and some other people build our lighting and sound booth by removing rows of chairs in the back. They also blasted through the walls in the back to create the spot light booths. The acoustic clouds, stage lighting, sound… all of it was an after thought. This place was never supposed to hold music concerts or plays… it was built for lectures and graduation ceremonies.
And yet 40 years later, the James Barr Auditorium houses some of the best Orchestral, Choral, Band and Theatre Departments in the state. While other high schools pass referendums and build real performing arts centers, MTSD has to perform in our outdated and past it’s prime Auditorium.
While the district is pushing the referendum for the Auditorium area with MTSD making the stage and washrooms American with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible, a new lobby and new auditorium seats, there is so much more in the budget that also needs to be spoken about.
Some of you may remember when it was a weekly routine for us, pumping water out of the auditorium, because once again it was flooding. While we have the flooding problem under control… ish… our stage floor was ruined way by the 90’s because of it. Anyone who has been on the stage can attest to it peeling up in your face or on your feet. It comes up in foot long chunks and you know when it’s happened because Ms. Figg-Franzoi starts making angry noises as she plugs in the belt sander to make the stage safe to walk on again. Our only remedy to fix the floor is it sand it down.
Another issue we have on stage is our fly rail/rigging system. We had it inspected this summer and a ETCP-certified rigger gave us the rundown. “Most of the issues have to do with method – when the system was installed there were no real regulations specifically governing theatre rigging, so many of the methods which were considered standards of the time are now obsolete and/or have applied standards that need to be followed.” He then recommended that we gut and redo our fly system for safety issues.
One of my favorite quotes from this inspection is about our curtains, some are original to the threate. “I removed a small piece of fabric from one of the 1969 era black masking legs, and took it outside for a flame test. I’m sure you’ll not be surprised to learned that it did NOT pass.”
He left us with “I really fell strongly the time has come to seriously consider upgrading the rigging system.” This will not happen unless the referendum passes. And without the support of the community that will never happen.
There are so many other things on the list as well. Three years ago we lost 20 dimmers and light circuits on stage. We were without those lights all year, until we received an amazing grant to help us repair them. Our next 20 can blow at any time. But now when we go to repair them, we will have to pay more and search further for our dimmer rack system has been discontinued. We are living on borrowed time.
For years our Technical Director Wayne has kept the auditorium afloat by basically putting bandaids on the problems. Our budget to keep the lights, sound, rigging, curtains, anything theatrical is a joke, so all we can do is patch it, not truly fixing and never able to replace it.
But with your help we could not only repair the auditorium, but the rest of the schools as well. Talk to others in your community about the referendum. If this interests you, please repost, retweet, tell others. Help the students in your community have a safe and better learning environment.