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School board doth consider Shakespeare Festival proposal

Juliet may have an easier time looking for her star-crossed lover next year.

He could be on the Langley Middle School field.

Organizers of the Island Shakespeare Festival have proposed using the field behind Langley Middle School as the site of its productions in August 2013. The caveat being it will do the legwork of creating a stage, seating and possibly repairing the disused track.

“That’s really a preliminary thing,” said school board member Damian Greene. “They’re open to suggestions or whatever, they know it may not even occur.”

“Students and education come first,” Greene added.

For the past several years, the Bard’s tales have been told at the StoryHouse Theatre at Chinook in Clinton. The outdoors stage proved a heavy draw, as attendance steadily grew to a few thousand over the four-weekend festival. Successful attendance, which is in part due to the event’s free-with-donations-encouraged admission, prompted the group to consider a new venue. The disused school field — at least with extracurricular activities — was the first on the organizers’ list.

Langley Middle School’s track and field team has been unable to use the track around the field for some time. Besides being worn, the track is shorter than a quarter mile, making it unusable. The Cougar track and field team uses the high school stadium for its meets. Though District Superintendent Jo Moccia initially reported that restoration of the middle school’s track may be part of the deal, the festival’s representatives said they envisioned a walking path shaped like an hourglass more than an oval race track.

“Our primary concern is what our kids need,” Greene said. “If they need those athletic fields, we’ll keep them.”

Before the school district makes any deal about using the middle school’s facilities, it will need short and long-term plans. Langley Middle School was spared from consolidation by the new school board which was voted in November 2011, including Greene and Linda Racicot, as well as multi-term member Steve Scoles, now the board chairman. All three opposed closing Langley Middle School and defended the building’s structural integrity, which had come under fire after a report that its brick facade could be a liability should a strong earthquake shake the South End.

“Once we acquire those things and we know where we’re headed, then we can look at that other stuff,” Greene said.

Depending on the classification of the rental, the middle school field and its parking lots would cost the festival $44 per hour. That does not include erecting a stage and seating, which would be dismantled at the end of the festival, the weekend before school begins in September.

Any potential use of the school’s auditorium in case of rain would need to be considered, too. The middle school auditorium’s hourly rental fees are hefty compared to the grass of the field — $220 per hour for a commercial rate. Restrooms would also need to be considered, whether the festival rents its own portable toilets or the district is expected to provide indoor bathrooms.

“It would be at no cost to the district,” Moccia said.

Renting the district’s facilities is part of the board and superintendent’s vision to consolidate its “footprint” while increasing revenue. Already, the district shuttered Bayview School and moved the alternative high school to the South Whidbey Primary Campus, which was consolidated into the kindergarten to fifth grade South Whidbey Elementary School several years ago. The district office next to Langley Middle School was closed, as was the middle school’s two-story building. District staff are now in the transportation and maintenance center on Maxwelton Road.

“My standpoint is if it’s a rental, then it just has to meet the published rental fees for any facility,” Greene said.

“If it was something to be permanent, and this is personal, it should be something that should be opened up to the whole entire community.”

The district is trying to maintain its budget at the same time the city of Langley is trying to draw more visitors and tourists — and the money they spend. Greene said Langley Mayor Larry Kwarsick was at this week’s school board meeting and wants the festival and its roughly 3,000 audience members near the Village by the Sea. Langley Middle School is less than a half-mile from downtown Langley’s commercial core of boutiques, restaurants and the marina.

The city and the school district already have a memorandum of understanding for the port and city to use and maintain the district’s former bus lot at the intersection of Camano and Cascade avenues, which leads drivers into the heart of Langley.

“Certainly the school district supports the idea that we, too, would benefit from bringing families to the island,” Moccia said.

Part of the initial plan includes landscaping and beautification of the field. Tiered landscaping would create seating, much like an amphitheater and a concrete slab would be poured for a stage. During the other months beyond August, the outdoor theater would be available for the school’s use, which would give Langley Middle School students a place to learn drama and stageworks. The school does not have a theater program. Other service-learning opportunities beyond drama would be available, too, like horticulture.

“If the district were to agree, it would be something that we use as a learning opportunity for students,” Moccia said. “Whether that’s in the landscaping or the gardening, the Shakespeare folks were more than willing to give students an opportunity to learn, too.”

Meanwhile, the 2012 Island Shakespeare Festival continues, with “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” presented under the stars Aug, 11-12, 17-19 and 24-26 at StoryHouse Theatre on the Chinook land in Clinton.

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