The Albany County School District No. 1 board voted to fund $26,000 to the Laramie High School band program to replace old instruments, some of which are up to 50 years old.
The band program has gone through a 10-year growing period under the leadership of Chris Olson.
“I’ve been here nine or 10 years, and we had at that time 17 kids in the band, we’re now at about 120, the band room is full all the time,” Olson said at the Wednesday meeting.
When Olson first arrived, a large portion of the instruments and band equipment needed repair or renewal in addition to the program needing rebuilt.
“When I first came to this district, we only had one tuba, and it was held together with packing tape,” Olson said.
She explained when she took it in to get an estimate on how much it would cost to fix, she was told it would be more expensive than buying a new one, and it still wouldn’t sound great.
“I have 17 students right now in my percussion class and we have three keyboards, so if they triple up on an instrument, then I can do about half the class at one time,” Olson added.
Because the percussion class is much larger than it was 10 years ago, Olson printed out paper keyboards for half the students to practice on, then the students rotate to get a chance with the real instruments. In addition, the percussion instruments at the high school are 30 years old, many of them broken.
The band has slowly been replacing instruments over the years through grant money and fundraising. Of what’s been replaced, the percussion instruments are next on the list, which will take around $42,000.
Over the past four years, the band has been fortunate to receive much of its funding through grants from the school’s maroon, gold and white sponsors. The sponsors get advertising on score boards and in programs.
“There’s a committee that accepts grant application for that money that those sponsors are giving to our school,” Olson explained.
The maroon, gold and white sponsorship grant money is what will help fund the replacement of the percussion instruments. The grant provided $16,000 of the needed $42,000 a couple weeks ago.
For groups to receive money from those grant funds, they must match the money received.
As that is the case, the band students, parents and Olson have done extensive fundraising work over the last several years to match the money the sponsorship grant has given them in the past. The band has done concessions at UW basketball games and at indoor Laramie High School events.
“They have skin in the game,” Olson said. Because of the students’ hard work to raise money for the program, Olson said they truly appreciate the new instruments they have been able to acquire over the last few years.
The funds voted on by the school board Wednesday will take care of the rest of the percussion bill, $26,000. School board members were eager to support the band, voting unanimously to set aside the money for percussion instruments.
“I think this is a much-needed investment in our band program and it sounds like it is way overdue,” Chairwoman Janice Marshall said during the meeting. “I’d really like to see us get on some sort of rotation cycle, so we don’t get to having 50-year-old equipment.”
Superintendent Jubal Yennie and Olson assured the board that they’ve been working on a 10-year replacement plan for the band equipment to ensure this does not happen again.
“In the 10-year plan that I showed Dr. Yennie, we have one more big set of instruments that’s not been updated, and that’s our woodwind instruments,” Olson said. The woodwind replacement cost estimate Olson mentioned to the board was $43,000.
“And then after that point, I’d really like to see us have an annual budget and a replacement plan,” Olson added.
Board member Jamin Johnson encouraged the continued diligent work of setting up a replacement plan.
The woodwind instruments and replacement plan will likely show up in near-future board meetings and budgets.
All-State Music will be held in Laramie in January 2021, so it is important to get the new concert percussion instruments by then. As for the marching band percussion instruments, the school will need them by summer.
Ultimately, Olson and the band students are excited and grateful to be getting new equipment.
“This is gonna take them to a different level, playing on good equipment is gonna raise their excitement, it’s gonna raise their commitment, and playing on good equipment is gonna make them a better band,” Olson said.