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Time for an auditorium

Sep 19, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

It is a matter both of necessity and community standing for Riverton High School

The words from Terry Snyder's mouth were music to the ears of residents who have been waiting, collectively, a century for a functional high school auditorium to be built in Riverton.

In discussing plans by the State of Wyoming to conduct a full facilities review of local public schools, the Fremont County School District 25 superintendent said the following: "We have a high school auditorium I believe needs to be built one way or another."

Amen.

Riverton has, in effect, built five high schools since the city was founded in 1906 -- the original Jefferson School, which served as the high school for years; the old three-story brick Riverton High School on the hill west of downtown, built in 1920, long since torn down; the huge expansions of that school in 1950 and again in 1964; and the current Riverton High School on West Sunset Drive that has stood for 30 years.

And never once did we build an auditorium.

The closest we came was in the 1950 expansion, which included the gymnasium now used by the RHS wrestling program. It was built with a huge stage more than 80 feet wide and 30 feet deep. It had a curtain, lots of "fly" space for moving and storing scenery to the sides of the performance area, and a catwalk overhead from which to hang lights, microphones and scenery as needed. The gym's interior walls were equipped with platforms for spotlights. Gymnasiums are notoriously bad acoustically, but the permanent concrete grandstand on the east side was constructed in an amphitheater design that made the sound quality better than it would have been otherwise.

The old gym hosted community concerts, the school musical, talent shows, political rallies and many other events along with hundreds of basketball games, volleyball games and wrestling matches, not to mention myriad school assemblies.

There were complaints about it at the time, but in retrospect it looks pretty good. The stage is still there, but the other trappings of a performance space have long since been stripped away. Today, there's nothing in the district that even comes close to the usefulness that old gym once had for music and drama.

No other high school of comparable size in Wyoming does without an auditorium, and numerous smaller schools in recent years have been built with an auditorium as part of the basic plan. Lander, Powell and Thermopolis all come to mind. Lander, in fact, tore down an auditorium when its old high school was demolished and the fine new LVHS was constructed -- with a new auditorium.

Riverton is lucky that Central Wyoming College is here with its thousand-seat Arts Center Theater and smaller Little Theater. The new allied health center now under construction will have a small auditorium as well. Riverton High School has made good use of CWC's facilities for many years.

But they are not District 25's property. They can be used only with permission, and only after long advance planning in competition with college classes and other events hosted by the college and other groups. And CWC fees can and usually do apply to any uses of its facilities.

It also is a simple matter of pride and adequacy. Riverton is a Class 4-A high school without even Class 3-A accommodations for its speech, drama and music programs, which have been judged the best in Wyoming many times, year after year. There is an outstanding student and faculty base on hand for those programs who represent our school and our community with great distinction. Further, the academic and developmental benefits of arts education have been demonstrated, proved and reiterated with rock-solid science. These activities are more than fun. They are vital.

Riverton High School doesn't simply want an auditorium. It doesn't simply deserve it. It needs it. Superintendent Snyder and the school board must have every encouragement as they impress this fact upon state money providers in pursuing this crucial addition to our community's infrastructure.

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