To pass, or not to pass?
That is the question Enumclaw School District voters are currently asking themselves about the upcoming bond vote, and the answer is forthcoming on Feb. 14 — or shortly after, if the vote is close.
The Courier-Herald has published several articles about the bond, and the Enumclaw School District has hosted three bond chats to showcase its needs and answer questions.
But unless you attended the chats, or routinely visit Byron Kibler Elementary, the high school auditorium, or the Pete’s Pool stadium, you may not have a good idea what these buildings and facilities are like and how their conditions can affect students and their ability to learn, perform, and compete.
So as the countdown to Election Day nears zero, here’s a three-part series to give you an in-depth look at what conditions are like inside ESD’s oldest elementary school, the high school performance space, and its historic football field.
IT’S DEFUNCT, JIM
If you get a chance to walk into the Enumclaw High auditorium while it’s fully lit, look up, and you’ll notice a lot of dead lights.
If you walk through the nearby hallways, you’ll see paint peeling and bubbling from water damage on the walls and ceiling. But don’t get too distracted looking up, or you may trip over the several buckets set up to catch leaks when the weather turns nasty.
And if you’re about to take your seat for a showing of “Footloose”, you may want to check if you’re positioned under one of the stage lights — Auditorium Tech teacher Will Abrahamse said it’s not an uncommon occurrence for him to walk in to find broken glass from a shattered bulb littering the front rows, though only once did that happen while someone was sitting underneath.
In short, the ESH auditorium may have been state-of-the-art when it was built in the 1970s, but like many actors who were in their prime 50 years ago, it’s now old, tired, and temperamental.
According to ESD’s Director of Activities, Athletics, and Operations Phil Engebretsen, the building’s last major enhancement was in 1998, when grant money allowed for the construction of a classroom space, changing rooms, and various other improvements.
He noted that while some control systems have received upgrades, they are “still significantly behind current industry standards” because the building can’t handle anything more modern.
On the drama side of things, Engebretsen noted how the classroom space and dressing rooms are no longer adequate for modern use.
“The classroom is the only available ‘off stage’ area and serves as a ‘green room’ and gathering space for groups utilizing the performance facility. This often impedes upon the availability for the classroom as an adequate teaching space,” he said in an email interview.
And for theater tech students, the auditorium’s lighting systems are inaccessible to students.
“The lights are fixed — they’re dead-hung,” said Abramanse. “So any work on the lights has to be done on a 12-foot ladder or crawling out hand an knees hand and knees… and stomach sliding under beams to get to it.”
There’s also the light dimming system, which is metaphorically held together with paperclips and duct tape.
“Nobody carries any parts” to the dimming system, which was built in 1996, Abrahamse continued. “I’ve been able to source some here and there, but you can’t get anyone to actually service it.”
All of these limitations puts EHS drama students, wether performing on stage or working tech, at a disadvantage when pursuing careers outside school.
“Not being able to work, hand-on, with the actual equipment, they’re behind the people who do have those facilities,” Abrahamse said.
Finally, as noted above, the condition of the building itself is poor.
Beyond the leaks and broken bulbs, there’s a pump under the stage that helps keep the first two rows from flooding.
When Abrahamse started working with the Drama department, “this would routinely, all of this carpet here in the front, would be just saturated, spots where there would be a quarter-inch of standing water,” he said.
And outside drama productions, the district’s ability to have presentations in the auditorium, like when the school board hosted its meetings there when public attendance was high a year back, is extremely limited.
“Our current projector system consists of a surplus classroom projector from more than a decade ago on a cart in front of the stage,” Engebretsen said. “The infrastructure to improve this system is not currently present in the building.”
“In short, the aging facility regularly impacts both the learning environment for students as well as the quality of the experience during performances that include our students as well as outside groups,” he concluded.
‘SOMEWHERE I BELONG’
When it comes down to it, the drama department functions as it currently stands.
But that’s not enough for students, Abrahamse said.
“A lot of [students], this is their home. This is the one place they feel safe, the one place they can be themselves. And we owe it to them, just as much as we do other students that have their place where they feel themselves,” he continued.
With that in mind, there are many things he and the district would like a new building to include.
For Abrahamse, his top three priorities would be having a “fly system”, so lights can be lowered and students can get some hands-on experience working with the equipment.
Additionally, the control booth needs to have better accessibility, as the stairs that lead up to it lack ADA accommodations.
Finally, Abrahamse would like to have a full orchestra pit, which would not only help out with student musical plays, but greatly improve orchestra and band performances, both hosted by students or the Gateway Concert Band, which regularly uses the space.
According to Engebretsen, the district would also try to plan for increased seating (380 to 500), transition to LED lights for the stage and all around the building, improve security access (which includes shifting the new performing arts center so that it is accessible through the main school building), install modern HVAC equipment, and — of course — modernize all tech to support stagecraft, drama and acting, art and design, and auditorium tech courses.
While all of these upgrades would give EHS students an edge competing for careers outside school, Abrahamse feels it would also mean that drama programs would be more than functioning — they’d be thriving.
“We really pride ourselves in being able to give that sort of environment to these kids,” he said. “It would be nice if we have a facility that showed that, too, without having to dodge paint buckets with water.”