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Board mulls LGI’s future

The high school theater space has been an oddball since it was built.

The principal calls it “goofy.”

The superintendant describes it as “awkward” and “unfortunate.”

Even the name – “LGI,” for “Large Group Instruction” – is off kilter for a room that might more simply be known as “the auditorium.”

Built in 1970 as a combination theater/performance hall/classroom space, the LGI has never performed any of those functions very well, BHS Principal Brent Peterson said.

“It has been a compromised space from the very beginning,” Peterson said, noting that the facility was built with unusual room dividers to qualify for state construction funds designated for classroom space.

A wall splits the rear of the hall in two, which makes it impossible to see the full stage from many of the seats in the back of the room.

The acoustics are too poor for musical performances, and with just 220 stage-view seats, the space is too small for a gathering of, say, the freshman class.

As the school board ponders high school campus upgrades through a projected $40 million facilities bond, the fate of the LGI remains in question.

Will it be remodeled? Torn down? Integrated into a larger performing arts facility?

For the next few months, consultants working on a master plan and “education specifications” for the high school will examine various facilities options to meet the needs of the school’s band, theater and choral groups.

“What I have heard loud and clear, is that just as parents and the community wants good facilities for sports, libraries and classrooms, so we want good facilities for the arts,” Peterson said.

How big?

But what shape such facilities take is a complex question.

Performing arts centers cost millions of dollars, and sometimes require management and maintenance crews to make them run, an expense school board members say they want to avoid.

Partnerships with local performing arts groups are also being considered, but such arrangements could be tricky when it comes to bookings.

What’s clear, parents and educators say, is that the arts students at the high school deserve better.

When the LGI was built, BHS had 800 students. Today it has 1,400 and it’s expected to grow by another 100 students in coming years.

The high school band program, with 192 musicians, is crammed into 2,500 square feet of rehearsal, storage and classroom space, when the national standards for a program of that size calls for at least 6,000 square feet, according to band director Stephanie Dupuis. Across the hall, the choir room can’t accommodate all the singers in the group at one time.

Next door in the LGI, theater students struggle to make do.

“We just started work on ‘West Side Story,’ and we have no restrooms and no place for the kids to get dressed,” said Bob McAllister, the high school’s longtime theater teacher.

“We have no wing space, and we have 30 students in the tech crew. To make the lights work, we have to hit the wall.”

Because there is no orchestra pit, 30 audience seats will be removed for the May musical.

“It’s a shame we don’t have a better facility to use,” McAllister said.

Per Sherwin, managing director of Bainbridge Performing Arts, has been asked to weigh in on the debate.

As a BHS graduate, he is aware of the school’s limitations. And as a theater manager and consultant to school districts planning performing arts facilities, he’s had some experience balancing school budgets with community desires.

Sherwin is in favor of an extensive remodel of the LGI for theater purposes, and the construction of a concert hall with flexible space that would serve the high school first, and the community secondarily.

“You could build it cheaper than a performing arts center, and it would be easier to maintain,” he said.

“A big facility with a (theater) fly requires a lot of tech and maintenance, and if it doesn’t get it, it will deteriorate.”

Peterson said he’s confident that a solution will be found that serves all of the arts groups on campus. It’s just too soon to say what the outcome will be.

“I think there is a need and a desire to look for integration opportunities,” he said. “All the pieces are related.”

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This story is the second of two parts. The first considered space deficiencies in the BHS band room.

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