CHS Drama prepares final production for administration building stage as district, citing aging systems, begins looking at vacating office space
Backstage at the Fisher Building theater, there’s a cabinet full of old scripts and high school drama yearbooks full of photos, quotes and Cheney High School theater legends.
The meanings behind the eyeball and the spoone, the quotes, the inside jokes and the traditions have been passed down from year to year, generation to generation since the first performance on the stage in 1930.
Back then it was a brand new high school. Today, leaders say the building is becoming unreliable; the CHS Drama club is preparing for their last show on the stage and the Cheney School District administration is seeking new homes for those who use the building, citing aging systems that put offices and district materials at risk.
Many district offices, including Student Support Services and Nutrition Services, have already been relocated from the building to the new satellite site, a former Nike missile installment on S. Andrus Road northeast of Cheney. This fall, CHS Drama director Jamie Nathan was informed that the fall performance would be the last one on the stage.
Administrators say the condition of the building’s aging systems make it unsuitable for many of its current uses.
“We now have some more space options and we’re trying to reduce our reliance right now on Fisher,” associate superintendent Sean Dotson said Monday.
Dotson said the building’s HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems were all in bad shape, and the administration had decided to find new homes for as many offices as possible.
The Fisher Building served as the district’s high school until 1966, when it became the administration building. The building currently houses administration, human resources and business offices, the print shop and the parent-district partnership program HomeWorks.
“There are systems in the building that are at the end of their useful life,” Dotson said. “We don’t have solutions for that. We can’t afford to fix everything and we can’t keep relying on these systems indefinitely.”
A 2005 appraisal said it would cost $5-6 million to upgrade the systems. Dotson said the administration didn’t want to ask the public for money to improve an administration building.
HomeWorks will be relocated to the satellite site this spring, and Dotson said some other offices would likely be moved there as well.“There’s enough room up there for everyone if we needed it,” he said. “Space-wise, it’s the simplest option.”
In years past, there was some concern in the community that the Nike site purchase would draw the main district services out of the city of Cheney, and district leaders said at the time that administration would stay in Cheney.
Now, Dotson said there are a lot of unanswered questions, including the future of the building, but the focus had to be on convenience, efficiency and the responsible use of funds.
“When we have a high school that needs to be remodeled and upgraded, it’s hard to ask for money to fix an administrative building,” he said.
The Fisher Building’s history as a school was still evident in the theater last week as the Drama club prepared for rehearsal. They’re performing “The Complete Works of Shakespeare: Abridged,” a comedy that usually features a cast of just three people speeding through the Shakespeare classics. To accommodate the number of students in the Drama club, director Nathan decided to incorporate 18 players to rotate through the roles, so the green room was full of young men and women wearing puffy shirts and Converse sneakers.
The students said they’re looking forward to the performance, that it’s something special to put on the last play on the Fisher stage. At the same time, they’re wondering what will happen to the gigantic eyeball painted on the wall—one of the mysterious legends, and the stacks of old sets signed by seniors from productions gone by.
Sophomores Jordin Debban and Alicia Hubbard page through the old scripts and yearbooks they found in the cabinet backstage. They pick out pictures of Nathan and other adults who performed on the stage and now keep the program going.
Debban and Hubbard were chosen to be the historians for the club this year, to make sure all the legends remain intact when they leave the space. Debban said she hadn’t really though about the history of the theater, but now she’s pouring over old yearbooks reading quotes aloud.
“I knew this was here but I hadn’t really looked in it,” she said. “It’s pretty cool.”
The production begins Friday night at 7 p.m., with additional performances Nov. 10, 16 and 17, all at 7 p.m. After the final performance, the students plan to sweep the stage and sprinkle the dust on their new stage at the high school’s Little Theatre.
Nathan said the space at the Little Theatre is not ideal, and she’ll have to choose plays carefully so that they can stage them in the small space. Instead of a spring performance, Nathan is writing a Twilight Zone-esque movie that the Drama students will stage, act, film and produce.
Junior Sarah Corean, head of costumes, said she’s excited about the possibilities of making a film, but said it will be a transition. She talks as she sews stuffing into the costume for the “fat nurse” in “The Complete Works,” surrounded by rows of costumes and accessories that will be stored elsewhere after this month’s production.
“My drama world has always been within this area, so it will be different,” she said.
Nathan said many CHS Drama alumni were planning to attend one of the four “farewell” performances this month. The students have been really focused, she said, and they know this production will have a special meaning.
As he stood backstage waiting for his cue, junior Logan Tiedt said his grandfather acted on the Fisher stage.
“My dad watched his first show here when he was five,” he said.
It was kind of sad, being the last show, Tiedt said, but he had more pressing matters to think about.
“I have a lot of stuff to memorize.”
Becky Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.