Susan Raines has a message for those considering whether to support construction of new elementary and high schools in Iola — especially those considering voting against the $50 million bond issue.
“Don’t vote no because of the Bowlus,” she said.
Raines is the executive director of the Bowlus Fine Arts Center and spoke Tuesday about the prevailing thought by some that by altering the types of Iola High School classes at the Bowlus, USD 257 puts itself at risk of losing the Bowlus Center and its assets.
Raines, who supports the bond issue, disagrees.
“I see this as an opportunity for some new direction while still fulfilling the basic fine arts education requirements for our school children today,” Raines said.
Raines contends the new course offerings would enhance fine arts education here and create greater employment opportunities for IHS graduates.
“I support the idea of these schools,” she continued. “I support the idea of the Bowlus moving forward and taking on new challenges in the future. Technology is such a huge part of fine arts anymore.”
As part of the school district’s new schools proposal, classes such as vocal and instrumental music, visual arts and drama classes would be pulled from the Bowlus and moved to the new campus.
In their place, the Bowlus would feature curriculum geared more toward careers in arts.
For example, recording engineering and music production classes might replace vocal and instrumental music; digital graphic arts, Web and app development or broadcast video courses are considered visual arts curriculum, while drama and theater students could enroll in event or stage production classes.
“Despite some people’s concept of technology, composing is done on computers now, with a keyboard and computer,” Raines said. “If you sat through our (50th anniversary celebration) Saturday in the auditorium, it was quite evident the technology that was on display. Our lighting board is a touch screen. You have to input the information.
“Jobs in the fine arts, be it theater, art, or music, involve technology. The technology portion also brings a new player into the game, a 21st century player,” she continued.
“When I think about the job market for our students who come through this building, it prepares them to be more hireable.
“To have a building like this designated for that portion of their education doesn’t sound to me like a bad idea,” she said. “It sounds like an opportunity to step with both feet into the 21st century.”
Matt Kleopfer, band instructor at both IHS and Iola Middle School, expressed excitement about the possibilities.
A music engineering or composition class would provide 1-on-1 instruction with students seeking to further their education or careers in fine arts, he said.
“I didn’t know Mr. Bowlus, but it seems to me that for somebody as progressive as he was, if he knew the opportunity for this building to offer programs available in only a few other schools in the state, he’d be all for it.”
Raines also noted the district would continue to have various concerts, plays and art shows at the Bowlus.
“The school is still going to continue to have the fine arts programs here as far as presenting,” she said. “They’re not building a new auditorium. We’ll still host every elementary school program; every middle school and high school music performance and theater performance. It’s what occurs in the classroom and curriculum that’s going to be different.”
THE IMPETUS for such a sea change at the Bowlus stems from talks about building a new campus for USD 257 — in 2008.
“Much of the community does not realize this,” Raines said. “Back when Craig Neuenswander was superintendent and they were thinking of a bond election in 2008, he and I sat down and had some discussion about making sure the Bowlus was incorporated into the plans and how it was going to be protected and secured for the future. In our discussion, we decided it would be good to bring several entities together and start some communication, rather than being blind-sided at some point.”
The Future of the Bowlus Committee was born.
Now in its fifth year, the Future of the Bowlus Committee consists of the USD 257 school board president, superintendent of schools, IHS principal and district curriculum director, as well as representatives from the Bowlus Commission, Friends of the Bowlus, Allen Community College, City of Iola and Allen County Commission.
“We decided we were going to take a proactive response to what we thought was probably going to happen in the future,” Raines said.
The group meets twice a year to focus on ways to keep the Bowlus a viable resource for the school and community.
The benefit is two-fold, Raines said.
First, it provides a vision for the Bowlus in the 21st century; and secondly, it gives the center’s supporters a voice in its future.
USD 257 is by far the largest user of the Bowlus Center, and as such, provides about $140,000 annually for classroom rental and user fees.
Likewise, the center receives about $32,000 each from the county and city annually, while other users fees bring in an additional $40,000 to $50,000.
Other Bowlus programs are funded through donations from the Sleeper, Helen Gates Whitehead and Stephenson trusts, as well as a bequest from the Nadine Daniels estate. Some can be used for operations; others are strictly to fund programming, Raines said.
In addition, another $40,000 to $50,000 comes in dividend and interest income from the original corpus of Tom Bowlus’ trust.
“One of our original thoughts was we needed to get a larger buy-in from the community and not just have all of this on USD 257’s shoulders.,” Raines said. “In bringing in a larger contribution from the county and the city, we met that goal. I call them legs on a chair. It takes all of them to support this place.
“I’m not worried about the school district taking away its leg of support,” Raines said. “Tony (Leavitt, USD 257 school board president) made that statement Saturday. Jack (Koehn, superintendent of schools) is well aware and committed. The trustees are committed to their continued fiduciary responsibilities.”
NOT ALL are on board.
Iola attorney Clyde Toland, in a letter to the editor Sept. 23, said, “with the planned withdrawal of the remaining fine arts classes, the Trustee (USD 257) arguably has breached the terms of the will.”
Toland asked the school district to provide “a written legal opinion which is ironclad in support of this position” — that the new course offerings meet the standards set forth in Bowlus’ will.
The district posted on its website a response made public earlier this week.
“Should a curriculum program for the Bowlus ultimately be articulated, and specific courses defined and approved, which radically differs from the current use of the Bowlus facilities, if deemed necessary by our legal counsel, the opinion and approval of the Court will be sought before any final decision is made to implement the program to insure that the program would not violate the terms of the Will and result in forfeiture of the Bowlus Trust,” the statement read.
What does that mean?
“It means they are not going to risk the Bowlus,” Raines said. “They are not going to risk what we are. They understand, they get it, that this is important to the community, and to the school.”
That said, “I don’t think Mr. Bowlus ever wanted to dictate curriculum to the school districts,” Raines offered. “He made a fine arts center, and fine arts are still going to occur in the building.”