Public interest meetings scheduled to gauge support for performance venues in Rogers & Zimmerman High Schools
“Welcome to Rogers High School. To our left is our oversized fieldhouse gymnasium where our basketball and volleyball teams have space to practice and play along with many youth programs. Out back you will find our track and football field, as well as other fields where students have the opportunity to participate in numerous extracurricular sports.
Across the street, our city council was kind enough to build a hockey rink for more of our athletes. And here to our right, is our beautiful auditorium where our band, choir and aspiring actors perform. Oh wait, I take that back. Here is where the auditorium was SUPPOSED to be built. Our choir can just perform on the stairway with horrible acoustics. That’s not so terrible, is it? We don’t need a theater program, do we? Why can’t those kids just join a sports team, be on yearbook or take an art class? That’s good enough, right?”
I’m sure when the Elk River Area School District built Rogers High School a decade ago, they had the best of intentions when they chose to scrap the plans for the auditorium. The reason I’ve heard is it was strategically cut just to get voter support to build the school at all. But nearly ten years later, the school still lacks an auditorium, creating a huge inequality to the budding musicians and thespians of our community. For nearly a decade the school district has sent the message to these students that music and the theatre arts are not important, certainly not as important as sports — not for Rogers or Zimmerman students anyway.
When I first began working for the Crow River News, Superintendent Dr. Mark Bezek was also a newbie in town. He preached a message of equity for all the schools in this, one of the state’s largest school districts. He quelled the mounting sentiment of Rogers residents who wanted to break away from the school district because of the disparity between how many tax dollars Rogers provided yet never seemed to see returned back to their schools in equal proportion. He, along with the school board members, touted the wonderful advantages a larger school district could provide. Yet after nearly a decade there is still no auditorium at Rogers High School, despite two efforts at bonds out there on two different occasions over the past decade to get voter support to build the auditorium.
It’s hard to know exactly where to place blame for this decade of oversight but I have my suspicions. I believe voters in Rogers and Otsego would be supportive of their own auditorium. I also believe Zimmerman residents would support improvements to their school. I suspect it’s that behemoth of a community in the middle — Elk River — that has been holding us back.
Elk River High School already boasts a beautiful auditorium of its own as well as a second black box theatre. How can one high school have TWO stages while the other two high schools in the district — Rogers and Zimmerman — have none? Is this fair and equitable? It’s as if school district officials took money from three friends to order pizza but gave them to just one friend who refused to share any with the other two hungry friends who were forced to just sit by and watch.
I think it’s proven pretty difficult to change the minds of the full and satisfied bellies in Elk River to fork over more cash to help their neighbors out. Herein lies the distinct disadvantage to being a part of a large school district that battles inequity issues. So now, we are all forced to be more creative in righting this wrong.
An ad-hoc committee comprised of three school board members is setting up meetings for Rogers and Zimmerman residents to assess the interest, options and possibilities of attaining auditoriums for our schools. With this first meeting, we need to show the interest. Even if you aren’t the proud parent of a talented musician or aspiring actor, it is our responsibility as a community to provide these students with a respectable performance space. I can’t imagine it would be acceptable to give our Varsity basketball team a half court outside on cracked pavement with a broken backboard to practice on. Nobody would want to come play games at Rogers and nobody would expect the team to excel with such dismal amenities. Supporting an auditorium in Rogers is the right thing to do. No more excuses.
It’s deeply frustrating to me that the school district as a whole hasn’t been able to accomplish this in the past decade and now must seek outside funding options to get it done. But the fact remains it is time to finally finish what was started a decade ago — a completed high school facility that includes an auditorium. For too long we have sent a message to our students that music and performance arts are not a priority. We can’t let another generation of students pass through the halls of Rogers High School without exposure to these opportunities. No more excuses.
I applaud the school board members who are working to conjure up support for an auditorium in Rogers and Zimmerman. Historically, this town had to fight just to get a high school built in Rogers. Now is the time to show your support once again. Now is the time to clear your calendar and show up. No more excuses.
If you go…
Rogers Auditorium Interest Meeting
Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.
Rogers Middle School, 20855 141st Avenue