Last curtain call for PWHS auditorium

Final concert before performance area is gutted, renovated is Thursday, and all are invited to enjoy the show, leave with their seats if they bring tools

A PORT WASHINGTON High School choir rehearsed Tuesday in the auditorium in preparation for the last concert in the 41-year-old performance venue before it is gutted and renovated during the final phase of the $45.6 million overhaul of the school. The rendering shows new seating, acoustic wall and ceiling panels and a new stage. The sound, light and rigging systems will also be replaced. New choir and band classrooms are currently under construction. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press staff

“Bring your wrenches.”

Surprising words, given they were said by Port Washington High School Choral Director Dennis Gephart by way of invitation to the spring choral concert at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 10, in the auditorium.

But this is no ordinary concert. It is the last performance in the 41-year-old auditorium before it is gutted and renovated over the course of the next year in the final phase of the $45.6 million overhaul of the high school.

“Anyone who wants a seat from the auditorium can pull it out and take it home with them after the concert,” Gephart said.

That’s right, the audience can literally take a seat.

“One of the kids asked the other day what was going to happen to all the chairs,” Gephart said. “I told him they were just going to throw them away, so he asked if he could take one. I said, ‘Sure, if you really want one.’”

Truth be told, there’s not a lot of nostalgia surrounding the auditorium, which was built in 1977 and is still operating with many of its original systems.

“When I got here in 2001, there were 12 working lights, and some you couldn’t plug in without getting shocked,” Gephart said. 

A lot of maintenance has gone a long way toward keeping the auditorium, which is often used five or more days a week, functional, but there’s only so much fixing that can be done, he said.

“The original lights are still in there,” Gephart said. “They don’t make some of them any more, and if they do, they don’t make the bulbs.”

If there are some people who are sad to see the auditorium as they know it go, they’ll get over it when they see what comes next.

The interior will be gutted and new seats, acoustic wall and ceiling panels and a new stage will be installed. The lighting, sound and rigging systems will also be replaced.

And that’s just the beginning.

The music classrooms along the south side of the auditorium will also be gutted. In place of the choir room, a small theater, or black box theater, will be created to host small performances and accommodate rehearsals. The band room will become an area where stage props can be made.

Other improvements include two, 12-person dressing rooms and a wardrobe area.

“Our auditorium is so heavily used,” Gephart said. “Since the first week in March, there’s been an event a week in there. It’s non-stop, and it’s hard to squeeze everything in.

“Now our kids will be able to rehearse in the black-box theater. And we’ve never had anything like a stagecraft room.”

The new classrooms are under construction between the new commons and auditorium. The spacious band room has large windows facing Jackson Street in the front of the school. The choir room is across the hall.

The new commons and upper cafeteria are envisioned as gathering places before and during intermissions of performances in the auditorium. 

Thursday’s choral concert will harken back to the days when the auditorium was new with an ’80s theme.

“We’re going to span the ’80s,” Gephart said. “There’ll be everything from Bon Jovi to Cyndi Lauper.”

Admission is $3, and proceeds will be used to fund music scholarships.

In related news, the Port Washington-Saukville School Board on Monday accepted bids totaling $328,000 for furniture for the middle section of the high school currently under construction. 

That promises to bring the total amount that will be spent on high school furniture to $589,000.

In March 2017, the board approved bids totalling $258,529 plus a 10% contingency for furniture in the three-story academic wing completed in April of that year. Supr. Michael Weber said about $261,000 has been spent to furnish the new classrooms.

The $49.4 million referendum approved by voters in April 2015 included $300,000 for furniture, most of which was spent at Dunwiddie Elementary School, where a $3.8 million addition was built and new parking lots were created.

Most of the money for the high school furniture is coming from the referendum contingency fund. The priority for that fund was to cover unexpected construction costs — and make do with old furniture if necessary — but with few surprises more than halfway through the project, the district is using some of that money to enhance the high school.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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