Opinion

A new arts center should stand on its own

Conversations around combining the planned Vashon High School (VHS) auditorium with the new Vashon Center for the Arts (VCA) have referred to the presumed efficiency, ecological value and savings that a partnership would bring. While the idea has merit, research into other efforts to combine facilities in small communities in King County shows that this is almost always unsuccessful for both the schools and the communities.

Debra Twersky, manager of grants for cultural facilities and equipment at 4Culture, the King County cultural services organization, told me that joint use efforts, while always initiated with the best of intentions, usually result in significant friction between the community users and the school. Of the several partnerships between community and school in King County, almost none meet the expectations of both parties.

Building a single facility for use by the community and school presents challenges to both. To keep space accessible for community use, the school ends up subsidizing the costs of providing the management and operations for a community-shared facility. The school has a hard time recouping losses incurred while keeping ticket prices reasonable for community users.

When a community contributes to the construction and operating costs of a school-based facility, they expect it to be available for community uses — plays, musical events, children’s dance, etc. That means use by teachers for student productions would have to work around the community’s schedule. But on a school campus, the school’s needs are primary, and using the space for student performances, recitals, etc. takes precedence. Community events can be, and are, bumped from the calendar.

Building two facilities, a performing arts theatre and an auditorium back to back — sharing equipment, green rooms, water, toilets, parking, etc. — has been proposed. It would certainly seem to provide a “green” solution. But they would have to be built on school property, again giving the school responsibility for management and maintenance. The issues of funding these expenses are much the same as they would be if there were one building.

After much discussion with architects and the high school, we realized that sharing equipment, a green room, a lobby, parking lot, etc., would create logistical problems for both school and community users. Simultaneous performances (a given) would require simultaneous use of those facilities. Apart from facilities problems, there are security issues around the presence of non-school personnel on campus during school hours and year round.

As for our efforts to have an ecologically sound project, we will be conserving water (for instance, rainwater will be collected and used to flush toilets), improving the adjacent wetlands and using best practices to put the facility in place. The building meets or exceeds LEED Silver Certification.

VHS Principal Susan Hanson is excited about the new Vashon Center for the Arts. The two facilities meet their users’ different missions and needs: VAA’s to have an acoustically enhanced performance space, and VHS’s to have a teaching auditorium. She believes they complement, not duplicate, each other. Stephen Floyd, theater arts teacher at VHS, concurs with Hanson’s assessments about having the two performance spaces that meet their users’ separate needs. Gaye Detzer of Drama Dock says they are “holding their breath waiting for the new center to come online.” She says that “the explosion of talent on the Island” is generating more and more need for this space.

The community’s choral, instrumental and performance arts are growing. The VCA will meet the increasing needs and desires of a very arts-engaged audience, as well as provide much-needed teaching/rehearsal/performance space for adults’ and children’s art, dance, music and theater. There is hardly an Island family that isn’t connected to the arts in some way. This center is for you. Please come by VAA and check out the plans if you haven’t yet done so.

The need to develop the VCA project was recognized by VAA’s director, staff, board members and many community members. After looking at alternative scenarios (with other Island entities) which would take years to realize, we concluded that time was of the essence and that the opportunity to do this for the community, for our benefactor and for VAA was here and now.

 

— Susan Sullivan, a retired research biochemist, is a member of the VAA board of trustees.

 

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