Grad site becomes hot issue for KCHS students

Posted: Friday, February 04, 2005

A group of Kenai Central High School seniors upset over the possibility they could graduate in Soldotna this spring has taken its fight to city hall.

Armed with statistics supporting their claim that Kenai's Renee C. Henderson Auditorium is plenty big to host the ceremonies, four seniors gave a brief presentation at the regular meeting of the Kenai City Council on Wednesday evening.

KCHS Student Body President Rocky Ward told the council that the auditorium seats 997 people. When the estimated 102 graduates are subtracted, Ward said that leaves more than 800 seats available for family and friends — or at least eight seats per graduate.

Ward also pointed out that past graduations at the auditorium have accommodated graduating classes as large as 136 in 1988.

"That's much larger than our 102," Ward said.

Last year's graduation was held at the Soldotna Sports Center — the first Kenai graduation ever held in Soldotna. The sports center can seat almost three times as many people as the auditorium, and the ability to seat everyone who wanted to attend was cited as the main reason for moving the event.

Kenai Principal Dennis Dunn said Thursday that being able to accommodate everyone was his primary reason for supporting the Soldotna venue last year.

"The lack of seating is a big issue," Dunn said.

He said a significant number of students and parents are in favor of using the larger space and noted that an advisory vote held on the topic last year generated overwhelming support for holding the ceremonies in Soldotna.

"They voted almost 3-1," Dunn said.

A similar advisory vote is scheduled for today at the school, and if a petition circulated by students is any indication, it looks as if this year's vote could have a much different outcome.

"Seventy-four percent of the class has signed a petition to keep it at Kenai," Ward told the council Wednesday.

Dunn said he's not convinced students are as adamant in their desire to hold the graduation in Kenai as Ward and others claim.

"I think there's one group of kids that feel that way," he said.

Not all students believe Kenai's auditorium is the best place for the ceremonies. Kenai senior Natalie Carmichael said she thinks the auditorium is too small and uncomfortable to accommodate everyone who wants to attend.

"It's so hot in our auditorium and there's no seating at all," Carmichael said Thursday.

Dunn pointed out that other students would like to have the additional seating available at the sports center in order to accommodate large families, and he said an additional 600 to 800 more people were able to attend last year's graduation at the center. Following that event, he said the response from attendees was supportive.

"We had lots of extremely positive feedback," he said.

Ward and others are hoping the advisory vote will show that Kenai seniors are overwhelmingly in favor of holding the ceremonies at their school.

However, the vote is not binding, and Dunn still has the final say on where the ceremonies will be held.

"He's made it very clear he has the ultimate authority," Ward said.

Ward was joined by fellow seniors Jessica Summer, Cassie Wilcox and Audrey Coon. The four also made their presentation to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday and said they had gathered an additional 80 signatures supporting their cause from concerned community members.

One argument the students used was that by holding the ceremonies in Kenai, local businesses would stand to gain.

"People who go out to dinner after will be in Kenai, not Soldotna," Summer said.

Included in the presentation was an outline of how the students proposed to deal with any crowding issues. They said a live video feed could be set up in the gymnasium to accommodate overflow seating, and numbered tickets could be distributed to keep anyone from sneaking in without a ticket. This way, Summer told the council, anyone — fellow students, community members or extended family members — who wanted to attend would be under the same roof while the ceremony took place.

"We wanted to make sure everyone in these groups gets the opportunity," Summer told the council.

Summer's classmate, Carmichael, does not agree that the video feed idea solves the crowding issue. She said its unfair to potentially have family members from Outside forced to watch the graduation on a big screen.

"I don't understand why people would want to pay 600 bucks to fly up here and watch it in a gym," she said.

The graduation issue has become a hot topic of conversation at KCHS, with students on both sides of the issue voicing their opinions loudly in the hallways.

"We battle about it every day," Carmichael said.

Kenai council members praised the students for their presentation to the council Wednesday and voted unanimously to send a letter to the school in support of keeping the ceremonies in Kenai.

"You all are to be commended," Kenai Mayor Pat Porter told the students. "You've done a lot of hard work."

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