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The construction currently underway will add much-needed space to the band and choir rooms.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH  - Choir director Eric Stearns leads his students in practice. Huge improvements are in store for the St. Helens High School band and choir programs, thanks to the school construction project currently underway.

The construction process, estimated to cost about $68 million dollars, is expected to wrap up in the fall of 2024.

Current classroom space issues have proved challenging for both Noelle Freshner, director of bands and activities, and choir director Eric Stearns.

"Our old room was constructed in about 1981," Freshner said. "Something that has changed from the 1980s to now is the sheer amount of percussion equipment that the bands use."

Freshner said the previous room had built-in risers in the back of the room that made it difficult to move around and store percussion equipment.

"We could never quite set the room up the way that we performed," she said. "That room was very deep and narrow with risers in the back. My percussion section never got to rehearse in the same configuration that they would perform in."

Another issue was poor instrument storage with a lack of locks. Personal instruments were stored in cabinets at the side of room.

"Every once in a while, you would get somebody with sticky fingers that would mess around with people's stuff," Freshner added.

A staircase was another hindrance for the band room.

"Every time that we had to do a performance or a rehearsal, we had to carry equipment down half a flight of stairs," Freshner said, noting the elevator had little room for students.

"The band risked damage to their equipment every time they left the band room, just because of the flight of stairs," Stearns explained. "She would have to have students carrying very heavy equipment up and down the stairs just to get to our auditorium."

The new facility will include a ramp to allow students easier access to get to the auditorium.

The choir program has also dealt with difficulties through the years.

The original choir room — more than 30 years ago — contained both the band and choir programs.

"The band room was built in 1981," Stearns said. "The old band room was built as a response to the need for separate spaces. It absolutely had to happen, because we had too many kids and you can't have too many full-time teachers if you're sharing a space."

Stearns added, "The original building, as such, had very few power outlets in it. It was an old room. My office had one power outlet. The choir room was inadequate for what we were doing."

The new construction, according to Stearns, will add 200 to 300 square feet more per room. The band room will be getting the extra space by removing the built-in risers, which will add a flat space. The choir room will also have added space by reconfiguring offices and extra storage areas.

The St. Helens High School band has been averaging from 80 to 100 members in a typical year, while Stearns' choir program has around 125 to 140 youngsters in an average year.

The band and choir programs have been a mainstay at St. Helens High School and have received many honors.

"We have a history of excellence in everything we've done in our music programs," Freshner said. "The upgraded facility will be helpful in continuing that. Both programs are going to grow."

Stearns added, "Our band and choir are consistently named in the top 10 in our division in the state. We are very thankful that our district superintendent and our school board have really provided the resources to us to be able to continue making music at a high level with our students."

Freshner said the Lions choir is competing at the OSAA state championships Friday, May 6, and the band is competing at state the following Friday.

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