Easthampton Music Boosters sound off on limitations of band space in new school

  • Students in Donna Barcomb’s sixth grade class visit the music room at Mountain View School on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, the first day of classes in the new Easthampton middle school. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Meredith Balise, the fifth-through-eighth-grade White Brook Middle School principal, stands in the band room at Mountain View in January and talks about the transition from White Brook to the Mountain View School in Easthampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2022 8:13:24 PM
Modified: 3/13/2022 8:12:41 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Though construction on the new Mountain View School is still underway, complaints are being raised about the practice and performance space of the band room inside the $109 million building.

An online petition started last week by Shelby Hyvonen, a parent of two children who are part of the middle school’s band and a parent-volunter for the Easthampton Music Boosters, had been signed by nearly 160 people as of Friday. Petitioners are concerned that the band room isn’t large enough and will not filter out noise from a gymnasium that borders one of its walls.

“Learning music is important for the developing brain. Having access to the needed resources and space is equally important for all subjects, and music shouldn’t be left out,” Danielle Martineau wrote on the petition at Change.org. “Acoustics is an important feature for band rehearsal and should be considered in the placement of the classroom.”

Jason Moczulewski, who identified himself on the petition as a musician, said he couldn’t imagine trying to play in the new space.

On the petition, Hyvonen — who described the voices on the petition as a “group of parents and community members invested in the Easthampton School District’s wonderful band program” — requested that the school administration and leadership teams consider ways to mitigate concerns of lack of space and noise pollution, as well as long-term retention in the band program.

In requesting further comment from the group, Hyvonen said they’d prefer holding off “on speaking more on the matter publicly, and instead give the school leadership team a chance to consider our shared concerns and explore what modifications can be made to help out.”

Superintendent Allison LeClair declined to comment.

In addition to the petition, the group submitted a letter to the School Committee, and Hyvonen spoke about the group’s concern during the public comment portion of the committee’s meeting Wednesday.

“While we are grateful for the many improvements afforded by the new school building, we share strong concerns about the shortcomings of the space carved out for the middle school band,” said Hyvonen at the meeting. “We understand that there may have been factors involved in the grant funding for this project that dictated what kind of practice and performance space could be built; however, the current situation does not appear to meet the physical and acoustic needs of our district’s highly valued band program.”

Similar to the phrasing on the petition, Hyvonen explained that the current band rehearsal space at Mountain View is directly connected to the gymnasium and a smaller adaptive physical education space on the other side. The two sound-producing activities are separated by a 2-inch moveable dividing wall, she said.

“This creates an enormous amount of noise pollution in either direction; which is particularly relevant for growing instrumentalists, who are working to learn the nuances of creating music, both individually and with others,” she said.

As for the space, Hyvonen said that the band room isn’t large enough to contain the entire middle school band program.

The former band room at White Brook Middle School, although larger than the band room in the new school, was not large enough for the entire band to rehearse in, she said.

The 176,155-square-foot Mountain View School building will eventually house all students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and consolidate Easthampton’s three elementary schools, Maple, Center and Pepin, with White Brook Middle School, which will be demolished. Fifth- through eighth-graders were welcomed into the new building in January. The last two elementary wings of the building that will house pre-kindergarten through fourth grade have been sectioned off, so that workers can complete their classrooms.

The group suggested solving the sound and space problem by swapping out the band room and the adaptive physical education room, or moving the adaptive physical education room into the main gymnasium and having the band rehearse and hold lessons in the current adaptive physical education room.

If challenges with space and sound are not remedied, Hyvonen said the group believes students could lose interest in the school’s music program, which will in turn raise concern about retaining the teaching staff.

“As taxpayers in this district, we strongly feel that any student who participates in band has a right to have a space that is conducive to learning music,” she said. “We ask that the School Committee helps carefully and creatively consider ways to address these shared concerns with the goal of maintaining our band program’s strong reputation in the region. We hope that this concern can be added as an agenda topic at an upcoming meeting. I hope we can partner together to find a solution for all involved.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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