You know your school’s fine arts facilities are lacking when choir practice ends up in the ladies’ room.
“The girls bathroom sounds like a cathedral,” raved senior Kristen Evensen. “The library’s not bad, either.”
Evensen is one of 100 Coeur d’Alene High School choir students who peacefully protested the school’s inequities during this week’s homecoming parade through Coeur d’Alene.
The students maintain that promises to upgrade CHS drama, orchestra and choir facilities have been forgotten in the haste to build new schools to accommodate overcrowding.
After measuring their choir room with string, the students fastened the string together and walked down Sherman Avenue late Thursday, huddled inside the small space with signs that read “This is our classroom.”
They are fed up with facilities they say are woefully inadequate for their program - especially in light of the state-of-the-art facilities at rival Lake City High School. When that sparkling new school opened its doors in 1994, it included choir practice rooms, a large rehearsal room and a two-story auditorium complete with a light and sound booth.
“Their drama department’s prop room is bigger than our choir room,” said senior Jenica Cohen. “We don’t want to put them down, we just want to be treated fairly.”
Students say they thought upgrading Coeur d’Alene High School was part of the taxpayers’ mandate when they approved Lake City’s construction. Some renovation was done - one building’s classroom area was entirely rebuilt. But no improvements have been made to the commons, music areas or cafeteria.
“It’s the nature of the building process that the two high school buildings are different,” said Director of Secondary Education Judy Drake. “We intend in every regard to keep the CHS facility as a priority.”
With band classes in the bandroom all day long, the choir is left to meet in a stuffy converted staff lounge with an official capacity of 15. Each hour, 32 students cram into the tiny room for choir practice.
The Spanish instructor in the adjacent classroom is extremely tolerant of the noise, students say.
So are the school’s librarians, since the choir occasionally practices there. “My freshmen, they go over to Lake City and I watch their faces fall,” said Choir Director JoElla James. “The kids in this program feel incredibly slighted that they don’t even have a decent room.”
Conditions were bad enough for James to consider moving so her daughter could sing at Lake City’s choir facilities. Kirsten Evensen’s mom offered to let her use her father’s address so she could go to Lake City. James and Evensen’s loyalty won out. The teens don’t dispute the quality of the choir program. Coeur d’Alene High School’s is just as good, they contend. But facilities - and appearances - do make a difference, said senior Christine Burton.
“Outsiders see it and say ‘wow, they’ve got something going on.’ But here, we’re shoved in this hole in the wall.”
The seniors are particularly bitter. Perhaps because they remember renovation discussions back when they were freshmen.
“It’s like a roller coaster and it’s disappointing when we don’t get it,” said Erica Rogers.
But is that the district’s fault? Taxpayers rejected a school facilities levy in 1994 that coupled a new middle school with continued remodeling of Coeur d’Alene High School.
There are facilities needs all across the district, and only so much money.
“Those people who are closest and in the building see that as the only issue. But there are many,” Drake said. “It’s a slower process than perhaps some would like.’
Students felt homecoming week was the opportune moment to begin an awareness campaign. Their teacher agreed. James said she’s been silent about the choir’s acoustically inferior, uncomfortable accommodations for too long.
“It keeps getting pushed back, yet we are expected to show up and have Viking pride and sing the Alma Mater at every pep assembly,” James said. “Coeur d’Alene parents are paying the same tax dollars that Lake City parents are. Yet the district’s got a fantastic new palace and a school where kids are studying and developing their skills in totally inferior settings.”
With a new middle school under construction, there are no immediate plans for any new renovations, Drake said.
“Because of our growth we might have to come back to voters and say how do you want to prioritize the needs?”
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