Letters to the editor

An Open Letter to the Community Regarding Wisconsin Heights’ 2020 Referendum

Written by Emma Schaefer


In November of this year, a question will appear on the ballot in the Wisconsin Heights community asking taxpayers to support a $27 million dollar referendum for what the board deems to be necessary repairs. We acknowledge that these repairs are necessary and need to be done urgently. However, it is incredibly disconcerting that the members of the Wisconsin Heights School Board voted to deliberately exclude an auditorium addition from the referendum that is essential for the health and safety of Wisconsin Heights students, teachers, Drama Club members, and community members. An adequate performance space is vital because music classes are a required part of the curriculum for all students through Grade 6, and is an elective chosen by over a quarter of middle and high school students every year. A proper space for musical performances is no less crucial to the curriculum than the classrooms are, and our current space is deteriorating and insufficient. Reasons that the Wisconsin Heights School District is in desperate need of an updated performance space are as follows:

The stage is outdated. The current stage used for performances is original to the high school built in 1965. Its advanced age hinders the academic development and theatrical performance of the students using it, and also puts students and community members at risk for the additional reasons stated below.

The stage is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA is a piece of federal legislation stating that public accommodations (such as our performance space) are obligated to have appropriate aids and services for people with disabilities, and includes penalties of up to $110,000 for violations. The district does not provide sufficient accommodations for this piece of legislation. For example, the stage is not handicap accessible. While the district purchased a lift to accommodate, the lift is dangerous and inconsistent, which led to a student becoming stuck inside the lift while attempting to get on the stage. The stage and surrounding area also lacks an accessible storage area for costumes and props; the storage lofts on the stage have 6-foot ladders to get into them, which makes it dangerous for members to carry items up and down. Because of the difficulty of using the lofts, items are often stored in the back practice rooms off of the choir room. Additionally, the space does not feature accommodations for the hard of hearing, which is also required by the ADA.

The current stage is a dangerous environment. Currently, the stage is built into the wall in between the high school cafeteria and the South Gym, meaning that it is open on both sides. Because of the lack of light and space, backstage members and cast members have fallen off of the stage during shows and rehearsals and suffered a four-foot drop into the dark gymnasium on the other side. Additionally, the floor of the stage has splintered and injured actors in the middle of performances; in the most dramatic case, an actor was impaled by a two-inch-long splinter and was sent to the emergency room upon recommendation from a nurse in the audience.

There is a hole in the roof of the stage. This hole allows light, water and outside elements into the stage area, further damaging an already aging space. Water damage has been dealt to the curtains and the hardwood floor, as well as many props and set pieces left in that area. Damaged props cost the drama club time and money; since the club builds many of its own props, we have to pay for new materials and spend additional time repairing or rebuilding.

The curtains on the stage are not up to fire code, and the club does not have the funds to replace them. Curtains on the stage must be treated with flame retardant to meet local, state and federal fire codes. The last time the curtains were treated was in 2011. The treatment wears off over time, and the treatment certificate expired in June of 2016. Although there is a grace period of one year to allow schools to re-treat or replace curtains, our curtains are now three years past this grace period, which ended in 2017.

There are no dressing rooms. Due to its small size, the stage does not have an area to allow dressing rooms. Currently, actors are changing costumes either in the choir room across the hall or in the nearby bathrooms. These spaces are unsanitary and provide minimal—if any—privacy for costume changes.

The space is shared with, and often overpowered by, the gym. Because the stage opens into the South Gym, rehearsals are often disrupted by sports practices and games, the noise of which significantly hinders our ability to rehearse.

The space is severely limited in capacity. Audiences are seated in the cafeteria, which has a limited capacity due to fire codes—particularly during musicals, which requires the pit orchestra to play behind the audience in the cafeteria. This capacity limit drastically reduces the revenue that can be brought in by the drama club.

The current space lacks proper acoustics. Audience placement cannot be changed because of the cafeteria’s complete lack of acoustic sound. A stark example of this comes from the most recent musical production, Hello Dolly. The director of the show, Aniela Haas, did not know what her production truly sounded like until the final show, when she listened to a song run-through from the front row. In her usual spot directing the pit less than 75 feet from the stage, she was unable to hear the ensemble singing. Additionally, the music department cannot use this space due to the lack of acoustics. Music classes, which are required in middle school as part of the curriculum, must hold concerts in the gymnasium because of the horrible acoustics, limited capacity and lack of performance space on stage. The gym is also not a sufficient performance space because of the echo, chairs and equipment potentially scratching the floors, spit from brass instruments getting on the floors, and the fact that the band has to take time out of classes to set up all of the equipment for concerts.

The current stage has no wing space. If actors aren’t currently onstage or supposed to be entering, they are not allowed in the wings because there simply is not any room. Actors must wait in the hallway or in the choir room instead of being actively involved in the production during their time offstage.

Props and set pieces cannot easily be stored. Large set pieces often have to be stored in the hallways, the choir room, or the gym behind the stage. These storage areas are not functional because the spaces must be cleared out for sports practices, gym and choir classes, and general safety in the hallways; leaving props in these spaces is a violation of fire codes. The lack of wing space also makes it extremely difficult to move larger set pieces and props when needed.

The available space for us to build props in is in the cafeteria—the same space where students eat. While we do our best to clean the areas we use, this is not only an inconvenience to both the kitchen staff and us, but is not always sanitary. Additionally, students often throw food and waste from their meals onto the stage from both the cafeteria side and the gym. When it is not drama season, the stage is not occupied daily and this waste sits and rots on the stage. One student has personally cleaned up a cup of rancid yogurt that was slid under the curtains and tipped over. There have been multiple attempts to solve this problem in the past without success.

We are incredibly disappointed that the members of the Wisconsin Heights School Board chose to neglect the needs demonstrated by the Wisconsin Heights Music Department, Wisconsin Heights Drama Club and associated parents, students and members of the community. Despite knowing about the disadvantages and outright dangers of the current performance space, already completing all of the background research, and finishing the draft of a second question to include an auditorium, this crucial piece was cut from the Fall 2020 Referendum. We expect that, for the safety, well-being and enrichment of the students in our community, the Board honors its promise to bring the question of an auditorium in April, and hope that the people of the community vote to include this necessary piece of infrastructure.



The Students, Teachers, Alumni, Taxpayers, Community Members, and Voters of the Wisconsin Heights School District


Cody Amble

Kylan Bartel

Marissa Bode

Sean Bode

Chad Bollenbach

Edie Bollenbach

Jill Bollenbach

Casey Campbell

Gweneth Childs

Connor Danz

Sydney Denu

Cassidy DeWitt

Jacob Dickman

Raegan Doherty

Nathan Droessler

Emme Festge

Karsten Flogel

Dana Gee

Dylan Gee

John Gee

Tanner Gee

Sydney Groshek

Eliza Gullickson

Maisey Gullickson

Aniela Haas

Lydan Haas

Mark Hallett

Jack Harris

Dylan Helmenstine

Daniel Henne

Madeline Henne

Eric Haugen

Joanie Haugen

Luke Haugen

Anil Jergens

Channing Kepler

Alex Klaschus

Alex Klett

Megan Klett

Shannon Lease

Anna Leece

Grace Louis-Reindl

Libbie Louis-Reindl

Brooks Lueck

Bailey Lynch

Jill Lynch

Riley Lynch

Shaun Lynch

Savana Martens

Jenna Meili

Jackie Millonzi

Lisa Montelbano

Maya Muschitz

Cassie Parrell

Hunter Phillips

Heather Reader

Sophie Reader

Eric Ripp

Ethan Ripp

Ixchel Ripp

Izzy Ripp

Oakley Ripp

Haylei Roberson

Heather Roberson

Nicholas Roberson

Nick Roberson

Colleen Rohde-Szudy

Rhea Rohde-Szudy

Cora Schaefer

Emma Schaefer

Kyle Schaefer

Leona Schaefer

Destinee Schmidt

Andy Szudy

Eoin Szudy

Jodie Szudy

Matthew Trager

Emily Vils

Shelby Wakeman

Abigail Whitish

Jason Whitish

Jodi Whitish

Cathy Yasick

Mel Yasick

Jenna Ziegler

Stacy Zimmerman

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