GALESBURG — After District 205 went fully remote and the renovation of Galesburg High School began in 2020, almost the entirety of the high school theater department’s inventory — its furniture, costumes, props, microphones and projectors — was moved out of the auditorium and into two storage containers located in the parking lot.
Now, two years later and as the renovations are near complete, an estimated 50% of that theater department’s inventory has gone missing.
Nancy Dillard, who directed Galesburg High School theater department for the past 17 years and is the new president of Theater Boosters parent fundraising club, provided that estimate and valued the missing items between $10,000 to $20,000.
Dillard said she believed the theater department has suffered a “total loss” of the furniture it has acquired through the years by district funds, staff purchases and parent fundraising.
The missing items include china cabinets, an antique writing desk, a grandfather clock, fireplace mantel, chair sets as well as tech equipment, like 16 head microphones and two projectors.
But whether they have been trashed or are only waiting somewhere to be found remains to be seen as staff try to determine what happened and where items will be stored in the future.
Parking lot work meant theater materials had to move
John Asplund, District 205’s superintendent, said that the vendor it had hired to reseal the high school’s parking lot notified the district on short notice last month that it was coming to Galesburg. In order for the vendor to access the parking lot, Asplund said that the shipping containers needed to be emptied and moved.
An email was then sent out from the district’s administrative office on June 21 directing the high school’s theater department that they had until June 30 to move all of their items out of the shipping containers and into a shed located on the west side of the auditorium.
Asplund, who was out of office and on vacation at the time, said that this first email was drafted by Jennifer Hamm, the district’s assistant superintendent of finance.
Dillard said it was not feasible for all of the the inventory in the shipping containers to fit inside the auditorium shed because the shed was already full of pallets, flats and boxes that had been moved there from the stage.
The president of the boosters club did not personally receive the email as she is no longer a District 205 employee. Dillard said the situation was communicated to her by school staff so that she could help find parents that might provide temporary storage.
But Dillard did not end up requesting help from parents because a second email was sent out on June 22 by Andrew Empey, the high school’s fine arts coordinator, informing staff that an agreement had been made to move the contents of the shipping containers to Gale Elementary and Rose Hoben Welch School for the meantime.
Dillard said that this second email also informed school staff that the only things from the shipping containers that were found to be broken or duplicated would be thrown away and staff would have until Sept 20. to sort and cull through the rest.
Asplund said that the district’s maintenance and tech staff were tasked with relocating the contents of the shipping containers to Gale and Rose Hoben and “to thin things out if they appeared to be non-usable.”
“While I don’t have an exhaustive list of what was thrown away, in talking to the maintenance and tech folks, they said to their knowledge nobody threw anything that wasn’t already damaged,” Asplund said.
Asplund: If equipment was discarded it was unintentional
By the afternoon of June 23, Dillard said enough of the theater department’s inventory had been thrown away to fill four dumpsters.
After visiting Gale Elementary and the Rose Hoben Welch School on July 14, Dillard said she is confident that all of the theater department’s costumes and props are safe but that all of the department’s furniture is gone.
“The list of things that we lost were some electronic kind of things, the head-mics and the projector being the most expensive and important things,” Dillard said. “And then there is not a stick of furniture left. Every piece of furniture that we had is gone.”
Dillard acknowledged that there were items in the theater department’s inventory that were broken and not used very often. A portion of the electrical equipment, like the department’s soundboard, is going to be upgraded and replaced in the new auditorium anyways.
But certain items, such as the department’s 16 head-microphones and two projectors that have yet to be found, were still functional and necessary for shows.
Dillard estimated that the theater department’s head-microphones — 12 of which were purchased by the Theater Boosters, four were purchased by the district through its activity fund and four were purchased personally by school staff — cost about $250 each.
Dillard said that a majority of the theater department’s inventory has been purchased through the district’s activity fund, and therefore the district has the right to throw away what belongs to them.
But there are also missing items that had been purchased personally by school staff — like an antique red chair set Dillard purchased for $250 and used in numerous shows, and another chair set that Dillard said a staff member had recently purchased for the sole purpose of using it in the upcoming November performance.
“I’m really more in the mind of trying to make sure that we locate everything before we declare it completely gone,” Asplund said.
The superintendent indicated that, due to the construction, it is possible inventory items may still be floating around and scattered in places other than Gale or Rose-Hoben.
Moving forward, Asplund said that the maintenance and tech staff that have direct knowledge on where they moved items out of storage are now working through the list of items that Dillard believes are missing. Once that list is looked through, Asplund said he will have a more complete picture on what has been thrown away.
Asplund said that the maintenance staff had no knowledge of throwing away microphones, though that doesn’t mean they weren’t thrown away on accident.
“Certainly, if something got thrown away that was useful, that’s problematic,” Asplund said. “Trying to make those determinations in a short period of time can lead to some human error but I don’t think there was any animus towards anybody. I think if anything happened that was accidentally taken away it was certainly unintentional.”
Theater staff without contract or notice
Regardless of whether theater department inventory items have been thrown away for good or are only currently missing, Dillard and Scott Rasso, the department’s current musical director, both said that they were not given proper time to sort through the theater’s inventory and make the determinations themselves on what should have been kept or discarded.
Rasso, who has taught ESL in the district for 18 years and is now entering his second year as the theater’s musical director, said the 2021-2022 school year ended in early June and so he and other staff were technically not on contract to do district work during the time the inventory had to be moved.
Away on a vacation, Rasso did not see the June 23 email until one of the other theater department director’s texted him about it.
“I was out of town at a family’s cabin seven hours away so the last thing I was going to do was end my family vacation and drive back,” Rasso said. “It just kind of took us all by storm.”
Rasso believes that the rush to get the storage containers emptied could have been avoided if the issue had been discussed when theater staff and district admin met at the end of May for the theatrical performance committee.
“As professionals it would have been nice to have been asked, ‘What would you like to have us do with this?’ To be given a timeline,” Rasso said. “That was something we could have talked about when we met at the end of May. But nobody mentioned that. We all thought it was coming but we all thought we would have a little more notice and that didn’t happen.”
Russ Ullrich, the theater department’s tech director, and Katryna Weingart, the theater department’s fall play director, both declined to be interviewed for this story.
The superintendent said that maintenance and tech staff were tasked with sorting through the inventory as a result of the short notice and the fact that theater staff were unavailable.
“Based on what I understand of the timeframe in which they were going to do it, people weren’t able to be here. Which doesn’t make it their fault,” Asplund said.
‘We have to be able to live within our means’
Asplund said if the head-microphones are not found, the district will “absolutely” repurchase them. When it comes to replacing other items, the superintendent said that he does not want to make any “sweeping statements” until he knows what exactly was thrown away.
“One, we need to first find out if it needs to be repurchased and if there’s a cost-effective way to acquire more things,” Asplund said. “But we also have to be conscious of the fact that we have to store things. So as with anything else, if we’re purchasing things, hopefully we’re also looking at ways to minimize what we have in storage because we’re not going to be able to create more storage. We have to be able to live within our means.”
Dillard said she is concerned that efforts to replace the theater department’s inventory will make the theater department look more expensive than it is. She also said that she hopes that inventory items are not replaced at the expense of the budgets of future shows, curtailing what productions are possible.
“When I directed in the past, I’ve done some big shows with lots of kids and lots of sets with lots of furniture,” Dillard said. “I would hope that the selection of the plays that we do — that the kids need to do, whatever that play is, I don’t select them anymore — will not be, ‘Well we can’t do that because we have to buy furniture.’”
Rasso said that, since many of the theater department’s inventory items had been purchased over the years, the decision to have tossed a number of them without theater staff input will result in “wasted tax-payer money.”
“We were instructed to develop budgets for this year, to be given a line item, so that the school could pay for stuff. And because of the decision to get rid of everything, I feel like it’s just going to inflate what those budgets are for all of our productions,” Rasso said. “I would rather operate on a smaller budget and just make as good of quality as possible, but it’s difficult to do that when you can’t rely on previous sets, previous costumes, previous props and so on.”
Asplund affirmed that the items that were thrown away on accident will not count against the theater department, but acknowledged that efforts to replace the inventory will have to answer to the district’s budget.
“If something was thrown away on accident, that certainly wouldn’t be like, ‘Hey we had to spend this X amount of dollars on your stuff.’ That’s not going to be held against the theater department, if something was accidentally disposed of,” Asplund said. “But everything has a budget.”
Seeking future theater equipment storage
Before the renovations began in Galesburg High School, all of the theater department’s costumes, props, makeup, wigs and some of its furniture was stored in the auditorium’s basement. The rest of the department’s furniture was stored in the theater or in the auditorium shed. All of the platforms and flats were stored on stage.
Moving forward, Asplund said that the theater department can continue storing some items in the auditorium basement during performances, but that the basement can no longer be a site of permanent storage due to it causing mold damage in the past.
Asplund said the theater department can no longer store items on the auditorium’s stage either because doing so burdened other school programs.
Despite these changes, the superintendent said that the theater department will enter the renovated auditorium with more dedicated storage than before it was renovated.
Of the available storage spaces the theater department will have at their disposal, Asplund listed the auditorium shed, an audio-visual storage room, some of the basement, and storage closets located on the north and south side of the auditorium.
“Everybody understands now that there’s no storing on the stage. So if you look at it from that perspective, storage went down. But that never should have been used for storage,” Asplund said. “Any other storage space, there’s actually more than there had been in the past.”
Dillard said that she walked through the high school with Asplund and saw that the renovated auditorium provided more storage space but that, at this time, she does not know where the storage space that is dedicated to the theater department above other programs is located.
“I looked at a large closet and it’s beautiful and most of our costumes would fit in there but it’s not the theater’s space at this point, it’s designated for band and choir — it says that right on the blueprint, band and choir storage. (Asplund) did show me that space and two small spaces but it’s not designated for theater nor did he promise those spaces for theater,” Dillard said.
Asplund said that the high school auditorium will be “turned over” to school staff on Aug. 1 and all of the storage space will be available by Aug. 12. He said that the theater department will then have until the end of Sept. to figure out where it is going to store its inventory long term.
‘Actions speak louder than words’
Rasso and Dillard both said that they believe the district’s adamant support for the high school’s theater department appears complicated in light of the theater now losing half of its inventory.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Rasso said. “The district says they want equity in all of our programs and then for it to look like all of our stuff is being thrown out, it just seems like there is a disconnect there that I don’t know how to bridge.”
“The board and Dr. Asplund will say, ‘We want theater, we want good theater, we want to expand theater, we want to do more theater, we want really good theater, theater has always been good, we need to continue it.’ That’s the words that I hear,” Dillard said. “But then when they just start to throw your stuff away, sometimes actions speak louder than words.”