BHS band shoehorned in

Maddy Walentiny of the trumpet section leads sectional practice in BHS band assistant David Johnson’s office. Because of lack of space, students grab practice space wherever they can find it.  - JIM BRYANT photo
Maddy Walentiny of the trumpet section leads sectional practice in BHS band assistant David Johnson’s office. Because of lack of space, students grab practice space wherever they can find it.
— image credit: JIM BRYANT photo

Shortage of space to play and store equipment plagues HS band.

There is so little space for band practice at Bainbridge High, that students sometimes play their instruments in the stadium grandstands, in their cars, or in their teacher’s workspace.

“I can barely hear,” band director Stephanie Dupuis has been heard to tell people who call her at work. “The trumpets are playing in my office right now.”

Bainbridge High has one of largest and most accomplished band programs in Washington state, growing from 37 students in 1997 to 192 students this year.

But the downside to the program’s success has been a severe lack of space, a problem that district officials hope to address with the passage of a $40 million school bond election later this year.

“It’s not appropriate for the kids to be crammed into that space,” school board president Susan Sivitz said. “It’s an absolute priority to get more space.”

A performing arts center that provides ample space for rehearsals and performances is on the district’s wish list.

What that facility ultimately looks like, and whether it will be funded and operated in partnership with other community groups, is still under discussion.

The current band room is 2,000 square feet, which is used for teaching, rehearsal and storage of instruments and uniforms. The minimum national standard, just for rehearsal space, is 2,500 square feet, Dupuis said.

Before students can use one of four tiny practice rooms, they have to move all the instruments being stored thereout of the way first.

They might move the instruments outside, or if it’s raining, put them in the choir room.

But the choir room is often in use, because that program also has a space problem. It was built for about 25 kids, and there are about 75 in the choir program.

“This is the poorest high school facility I have seen anywhere, as far as size, quality and design,” Dupuis said.

Students, parents and school administrators agree.

Students complain that their expensive instruments and their band uniforms are taking a beating because of the close quarters.

Trumpeter Angela Chin pointed to a bass clarinet case – lying on the floor, because there is nowhere else for it to go – and said she had seen students step on it.

Chin said she’s also slipped into her band uniform outside, in front of passersby, for want of a changing area. Several classmates said they too had had to change in public places, to get dressed in time for a performance.

“We make do because we have no choice,” Chin said.

The closet for the wool band uniforms – which cost $500 a piece, paid for by a community fundraising campaign several years ago – is so small and poorly ventilated, that damp uniforms have become moldy and several had to be thrown out.

Ordinarily, if a band plays in the rain, the uniforms are laid out to dry before they are put away. Except, there is no place to do that at BHS, said volunteer drum teacher and booster club president Art Whitson, who has two children in the band.

Many of the instruments themselves were purchased through a more recent community fund drive.

“With the amount of money the district has put into instruments and uniforms, the community should make just one more investment for space,” said alto sax player Mandy Faddis. “It would help make our equipment last so much longer.”

Meanwhile, the band plays on, often traveling to competitions at schools that are far better equipped for music than what’s at home, at Bainbridge High.

“It’s depressing to go to a place like Bremerton where they have this giant, beautiful auditorium, big enough to host a band contest,” said student Casey Whitson, who plays the trumpet. “We want to have contests too, but we don’t have the space.”

Because of the large number of students in band – and family members and supporters who come to see them – BHS concerts are performed in the gymnasium.

While the gym is a great facility for sports, most everyone agrees the acoustics are terrible.

“Right now the beautiful music the kids are making is going up into the rafters and coming back down as distortion,” said school district Supt. Ken Crawford. “When kids have worked this hard, they deserve to be heard.”

Dupuis has made that point over and over, as the school board has debated facilities issues.

She bristles when people question whether music facilities are as important as classroom space for science, or math, or English.

“The myth is that music is frivolous, that it’s a frill,” Dupuis said. “Music is an academic subject that helps kids with life skills and helps them get into the colleges of their choice. Studies keep showing a correlation between academic excellence and music programs.

“Year after year, the valedictorians, the kids who got to Yale and Princeton, they are our band students,” she said.

Several band students said they have already begun campaigning for the bond, even though construction – whatever form it takes – won’t be complete until after they have graduated.

Groundbreaking on renovations to the high school are scheduled to begin in the summer of 2006.

“I’m talking to my parents and my parents’ friends,” said Faddis, the alto sax player. “I’m telling them to vote for it. We’re desperate.”

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