No room to Groove

The Pleasant Valley High School band desperately needs some space

TRAFFIC JAM Dan Holmes conducts the PV high school band from the crowded confines of a small classroom.

TRAFFIC JAM Dan Holmes conducts the PV high school band from the crowded confines of a small classroom.

Photo by Tom Angel

It’s the last period of the day at Pleasant Valley High School, and members of the band class pour into a side room of Valhalla, the school cafeteria. They drop their backpacks in a haphazard pile by the door. Outside, several school buses are idling, their diesel engines spewing caustic exhaust fumes that drift into the room.

The noise of clanking chairs and music stands increases steadily. The kids take their instruments from the cubbyholes that line the walls of the room.

Space is so limited that larger instruments like the tuba are peppered with dents, apparently from being banged together. The tom-tom drums are stored on top of the cubbies—over 12 feet off of the floor.

The students start warming up, and so does the room. A student asks facetiously if there is air conditioning. After the fumes of the buses subside, the room becomes very stuffy, even with the door open.

Two weeks ago the fire marshal visited, took pictures of the room and rated it for a maximum occupancy of 49 people. There are 65 students in the class. No wonder the teacher, Dan Holmes, feels claustrophobic.

Teaching high school band has been a lifelong dream of Holmes', but now that he’s facing on a daily basis the woefully inadequate facilities at PV, it seems more and more nightmarish.

When he was in high school, Holmes was the drum major of the band at Yuba City High School, where he graduated in 1972. Even then he knew he wanted to teach music and especially band as a profession.

It took him a while to get there. After a stint in the Army, he graduated from Chico State University and went to work selling rice drying equipment, making a very comfortable living and starting a family—until the bottom fell out of the rice market over 15 years ago. Taking that as a sign, he decided to go back to school and get his teaching credential. After that he began teaching music at Bidwell Junior High.

There he was a creative and popular teacher who introduced up-to-date multimedia technologies to his guitar classes as well as encouraging students by taking an interest in the music they liked to play.

At least once during his 14-year tenure at Bidwell he applied for teaching positions at both PV and Chico High School. He was turned down.

More recently, PV had gone through a couple of band teachers in a short time. Last year, when Principal Mike Rupp was facing yet another vacancy in the position, several parents of students who’d attended Bidwell recommended Holmes, the man he’d earlier given the thumbs-down.

This time Rupp called Holmes to offer him the job, and Holmes accepted.

Holmes arrived at Pleasant Valley with a distinct advantage: Bidwell is the main feeder school for PV, so many of his former students were there. He’s had no trouble attracting students to band, despite the raggedy uniforms, malfunctioning instruments and cramped, stuffy practice space.

Holmes is trying to do something about the problems. He and a group of parents called the Band Boosters have gone to the community for financial support. In two years they’ve raised $13,000, about half of which has been used for uniforms and to repair instruments. But the crying need is for a decent practice space.

School district trustees say that they fully support the band and would like to help but their hands are tied by lack of funding.

CUSD Facilities Manager Mike Weissenborn has come up with a partial solution to the problem. He has drawn up plans to expand the band room past the awning of Valhalla to create a room for storage, three practice rooms and an office. The estimated cost is $150,000. The money is available to build the addition, pending approval by the state Architectural Review Board and the CSUD trustees.

Most of the trustees have said that they will approve the plan.

Dan Holmes is keeping his fingers crossed.