The wrestling team at Mound Westonka High School no longer has to unroll its mats on the floor of the cafeteria. Performers in school plays don’t have to change costumes behind a sheet. Onstage actors don’t have to yell to be heard over the orchestra, and the musicians don’t have to squeeze into a catwalk alongside the audience.
Athletic activities and theater performances are more convenient and even luxurious now, thanks to the district’s recently opened Westonka Activity Center and Performing Arts Center. The two separate buildings are connected to the high school and financed by a single $23 million bond measure passed in a 2016 referendum.
The school’s nearly 1,000 students in grades 8 through 12, as well as younger students throughout the district and community members with memberships, can now access state-of-the-art equipment and amenities.
Just how state-of-the-art?
There’s a gym big enough for three basketball (or pickleball) courts and an elevated walking track. Batting and golf cages suspended from the ceiling can be lowered with the touch of an iPad. Big windows look out on scenic landscapes and wash the room with light but are designed to shield the courts below from direct sunlight.
“You don’t want to be at the free-throw line and have sun shining in your eyes,” said Lindsey Rague, the center’s manager.
But wait, there’s more. A wrestling gym. A weight and cardio room with 24 machines equipped with phone chargers and electronic connections to wall-mounted TVs. Gender-neutral and gender-specific changing rooms. A meeting and party room. A fitness studio for yoga, boot camp and other classes.
Community residents with memberships can access the facilities when schools aren’t using them (the cardio room and walking track are always open). Memberships are $35 a month, less for seniors, more for families or for people living outside the Westonka public schools district. Daily and annual rates are also offered.
In the Performing Arts Center, a 600-seat auditorium is outfitted with professional-quality sound and lighting equipment that students can learn to operate. Unlike the old 200-seat auditorium, it has microphones, so performers can be heard over the musicians, who can now settle comfortably into an orchestra pit built into the stage.
“It’s like being in a mini Guthrie Theater — the lighting, the sound,” said Gary Wollner, a school board member who works part time at the Activity Center.
The school’s recent staging of “The Addams Family” musical drew 1,800 attendees over four performances — about 1,000 more than the old auditorium could accommodate.
Backstage, the dressing room has private changing rooms and makeup mirrors with built-in dimmable lights and defogging switches. The former makeup area didn’t have mirrors at all, said coordinator Kelly Newell.
This one “is bigger than most professional theaters have,” Newell said.
There’s also a storage room for costumes and wigs and a shop for set construction. The lobby features a graceful curved staircase, colorful LED decorative fixtures and a small gallery for displaying art by students and teachers.
School staff members visited other districts to get ideas for the design, Rague said. As lavish as Westonka’s new digs sound, they are comparable to facilities at other big high schools, she said.
“High schools are pretty much like college campuses now,” Rague said.