GREAT BARRINGTON -- Over the years, supporters of the Monument Mountain Regional High School spring musical program say they've invested in about $20,000 into the purchase of equipment, props and set construction for the school's stage productions.
Tonight the Spring Musical Booster Club will go before the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee requesting $10,000 to help replace some of that theater production equipment, which was reportedly thrown away this summer in an administrative effort to adhere to building safety standards.
The public meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in the Monument Mountain Regional High School Library.
"Based on what was thrown away and what's left, there is no way we'll have the quality of musical we had in the past," said musical program booster Ron Piazza of Richmond.
In a letter sent to The Eagle signed by Piazza and three other boosters -- Julia Russell and Mary Jane Piazza of Richmond and Dave Potter of West Stockbridge -- the group said it "would appreciate student and parent support for this valuable program that has been devastated by school administration."
According to the boosters, they were told by administrators at the conclusion of the last spring musical season that material in the stage pit should be removed. They said Principal Marianne Young directed them to move the material to a garage on campus, but the boosters said that location had a leaky roof and was a substantial distance away from the stage.
The group members said they requested a meeting with Young near the end of the school year, but less than an hour before the meeting, the principal canceled the appointment.
Back in July, Principal Marianne Young asked Steve Soules, the district's director of building operations, to throw away the after-school program's musical props, which were stored on and around the stage in the school's auditorium.
Young said she personally reviewed the materials and gave instructions as to what should and should not be saved.
"The request to clean the backstage area and set storage has been ongoing," Young said. "We've been struggling with this issue a long time. We do not have a lot of storage."
Young said the build-up of wooden sets and supplies was identified as a safety concern raised by the state's education department in the spring, and during annual inspections made by the Great Barrington Fire Department.
There were also warnings made to art teacher and spring musical director Linnea Mace and boosters in years past, Young said. The principal said she tried to contact Mace about the matter this summer. Boosters say Mace was on vacation in France at the time.
Volunteers said they are mystified as to why Young didn't call the booster club before allowing the props to be thrown away.
Booster club members said they returned to campus at the end of August to find most of what they had stored in the orchestra pit and on either side of the stage gone.
They said the pit contained more than $1,000 worth of custom black metal pipe railing alone, in addition to items such as flats, knee walls, platforms, doors, windows, hardware, stairs, fences, gangplanks, and more -- all items assembled over the last 15 years through "hundreds and hundreds of hours" of work done by volunteer students and parents.
The group claims that the school rented a 40-yard dumpster and a 20-yard dumpster to dispose of the items.
"The rest was concealed in a burn pile way out back of the school by the soccer fields. A small amount of material was placed in a decrepit garage on school property," they said in a statement.
Boosters said they made a call to the state Department of Environmental Protection, asking an inspector to explore illegal dumping around the high school. Boosters said they've since spoken with Young, Soules and district Superintendent Peter Dillon about the cleanup, but have not been satisfied by the administration's response.
Booster club members said the 60 to 80 students involved in the spring musical program can produce as many as seven or eight musical productions in a year.
Piazza said planning for the musical season begins in December, and there are ongoing discussions among boosters about what to do about the lack of equipment.
Even in the unlikely scenario the School Committee agrees to provide $10,000 for losses, Piazza said the work put into creating "off-Broadway-style" productions can't be replaced.
"More than taking [away the sets], they broke the spirit and backs of people who put on the musical," he said.