Alcohol ban to be enforced at dedication of theater School board rejects exception to dry rule at school buildings

July 02, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Don't look for any alcohol at next winter's dedication of the new James W. Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Even though the black-tie-optional affair will be -- in the words of a community benefactor -- a "champagne moment," the Howard County school board has denied a request to allow champagne and wine at the event.

In taking that action last week, the board cited its struggles against underage alcohol abuse in the county.

"I am absolutely opposed to making this exception," said school board member Karen Campbell. "If we are trying to set an example for our students that you can celebrate and have a good time without alcohol then we don't need alcohol to celebrate this wonderful occasion."

The $1.2 million, 750-seat Rouse center is being constructed as part of the new Wilde Lake High School, which will open in the fall. The theater is jointly funded by the school system, the county and state governments and the Howard County Arts Council, the first such cooperative effort.

Its formal dedication -- planned for the evening of Feb. 22 and part of a weeklong celebration -- is intended only for adults and probably will include a buffet, a brief ceremony and performances by guest artists, said Michael E. Hickey, the county superintendent of schools.

A less-formal dedication will be held the next afternoon for families and children.

The Feb. 22 dedication also will recognize major contributors and will kick off fund raising for an endowment to pay for the operation of the theater.

"We thought this would truly be a champagne moment," said Earl Armiger, co-chair of the theater celebration planning committee. "We decided perhaps we would consider having champagne."

Maryland law requires the school board to give permission for alcohol to be served because the theater is part of a school building.

School board members -- mindful of their recent high-profile decisions on underage alcohol use -- decided not to give the celebration planning committee that permission.

In the past two years, several Howard students have appealed to the board their punishments for violations of the system's alcohol policy, including two who were caught drinking wine during a school-sponsored trip to France. The board upheld the punishments, which included a two-quarter prohibition on participating in athletics.

"I don't want there to be a message sent because this is a special celebration," said board member Stephen Bounds.

Board member Sandra French said she thought the planning committee's request gave the board a chance to send a different kind of message.

"I thought the message being sent was that you can use alcohol in a responsible way," French said. "You can toast someone, but you don't have to go fall down silly over it."

French voted against the request, however, because allowing alcohol at the event would have prevented students from attending. The Howard school system's policy prohibits alcohol from being served at any event that includes students.

"I don't want to exclude someone under 21 just there will be alcohol there," French said.

Armiger told the board that the planning committee was "very, very sensitive to the message that could be sent."

"We certainly understand it is school board property, and we must respect students above all," said Armiger, president of Orchard Development Corp., an Ellicott City housing developer. "We will proceed and put on a first-class celebration."

The only difference is that "they'll have to serve sparkling cider instead of champagne," said Susan Cook, the board's chairwoman, after the meeting.

This isn't the first time the school board has denied a request to serve alcohol at an arts-related event at a Howard school.

The Columbia Festival of the Arts had sought to serve alcohol at an event at the old Wilde Lake High School, but the board refused and the festival has not asked again, Hickey said.

Although the theater won't be dedicated until February, it is expected to be ready for use by Wilde Lake students in the fall for such events as their fall play, Hickey said.

The theater is intended to be the premier indoor performing arts center in the county and is expected to help the Columbia Festival of the Arts attract even higher-profile performers.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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