By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – The Performing Arts Center will remain an alcohol-free facility.
During a joint meeting of Ashwaubenon’s school and village boards Wednesday, Nov. 20, in the old high school auditorium, the school board unanimously voted to continue the district’s policy of not allowing alcohol on school property, including at the PAC.
The PAC is funded by both the district and the village and hosts school and community events.
It has not served alcohol since it opened in 2016.
PAC representatives asked the school board to consider allowing alcohol to be served at some community events as part of the PAC’s patron experience, noting some patrons had requested beer and wine sales.
The issue was discussed at three school board meetings this year leading up to the joint meeting, in which PAC representatives and others had the opportunity to speak.
The comments overall were overwhelming in opposition to allowing alcohol on school property.
Ashwaubenon Superintendent Kurt Weyers, who praised PAC Executive Director Kate Green and the Advisory Board for their work with the facility, said he opposed changing the policy banning alcohol on school property because the district’s No. 1 priority is keeping students, staff and visitors safe.
“We feel that allowing alcohol, tobacco and other drugs on our campus puts that priority in jeopardy,” he said. “As an administrative team, we feel that our schools should be a safe haven for our 3,200 students in our school district.”
Weyers suggested using the PAC “to model having a wonderful time at a performance without the need of alcohol.”
“Tonight is a prime example of the pride we have in Ashwaubenon in doing what is best for Ashwaubenon in a very collaborative setting,” he said. “The relationship between our village and the school district is second to none.”
Green, who provided background on the PAC since its opening, said the one inquiry the facility has received that has come up the most from patrons the past 18 month is serving alcohol for community events.
“That is why this is a topic of discussion today,” she said. “If it didn’t come up at nearly every single event – community event, non-school event – we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
Green, who declined to specifically name any act the PAC has not been able to book because the facility is alcohol-free, said a comedian wanted a percentage of bar sales and ended up not performing there.
“Now, is that making or breaking us? No, it’s not,” she said. “It’s just an example… Performing arts groups, who have homes at other performing arts centers in the community (and) who are looking at possibly making the PAC their home,… it has come up quite a bit of (them) saying, ‘Well, this is something our patrons are used to. They’re used to having a glass of wine before a concert. We’re not sure we want to give that up.’ Is that making or breaking us? No, it’s not.”
In addition, Green said more than 15 inquiries for renting the facility elected not to do so because the facility is alcohol-free, and primarily wine, not being allowed.
PAC Advisory Board Chair Lissa Marth said serving alcohol hadn’t been discussed leading up the constructing the facility, so the Advisory Board conducted research of other PACs in the state and also surveyed patrons of the Ashwaubenon PAC.
Marth said 54 percent responding to the survey indicated they would buy or consume an alcoholic beverage at the PAC with nearly 75 percent of those asking for that service being between the ages of 45-74.
She said the research of PACs shared with a school found four had a separate public entrance from the school and also had an alcohol service policy with alcohol not served at school-related events.
PAC Advisory Board Vice Chair John Flicher provided an overview of the laws currently in place that would affect being able to serve alcohol at the Ashwaubenon PAC.
“Currently (there is) no path forward for alcohol service at the PAC due to existing legal barriers…,” he said. “State and village law prohibit alcohol within 300 feet of a school property. Village ordinance is actually more restrictive than the state law, so there’s no exemption to that… That would actually have to be overturned as one of the things that would have to be done to even have a path to move forward.”
Tom Rolling, Ashwaubenon Public Safety Department interim chief of police operations, was among those speaking to keep the PAC alcohol-free.
“On behalf of Ashwaubenon Public Safety, we condemn this,” he said. “This is not something that we want to see… You can’t drink on school property. You can’t smoke on school property. I think our fear in our department, and the way we feel, is that what would be next. What are they going to ask next?”
Several present and past school staff members were also among those speaking in opposition.
AHS Principal Dirk Ribbens said he wants to make sure the school “looks safe and feels safe for our students.”
“It’s the kind of things we keep away from school – violence, drugs, weapons – that makes school a safe place and makes it feel safe for them,” he said.
Ribbens also expressed concerns about whether allowing alcohol to be served at the PAC would result in other requests to do that elsewhere on school property.
“To be fair to all community members and users, what we do for one, we have to do for all,” he said.
Teresa Schroepfer, who retired after the 2017-18 school year as AHS’s choir director, said she supported the PAC and its work, but found serving alcohol there would send the wrong message to students.
“We have to be careful what we model,” she said. “If we model we can’t get through two hours of a fine arts program without a drink in our hands, I think that’s the wrong message. And so, for us to lower our standards, because some patrons feel they need that, I think is really a disservice to our students.”
Some school board members suggested the PAC should be promoted as an alcohol-free facility.
President Jay Van Laanen said those who want alcohol could go to another venue where it is served.
“Here, we should have an event here, and it should be alcohol-free, because of the fact that… we are in a school,” he said. “And the other thing is, we have so many opportunities for people to (go to another venue serving alcohol), because we are in a bigger community. But we are here, we’re Ashwaubenon. We’ll do things the way Ashwaubenon people do them.”
Though the village board took no formal action after the school board decided to keep the PAC alcohol-free, some village trustees stated they also didn’t favor a policy change.
Trustee Gary Paul said the village board previously didn’t favor allowing alcohol to be served at the Cornerstone Community Center because of people under the legal drinking age using the facility.
“We did not want alcohol or anything of that nature at the Cornerstone, so in my opinion, that just passes on to the school here to say that I don’t think we should have alcohol here in the school, neither, because they’re both youth activities,” Paul said.
Village President Mary Kardoskee said the comments she received were overwhelming against allowing alcohol at the PAC.
“Let’s try to say, ‘Hey, this is Ashwaubenon, and we can do things without alcohol,’” she said. “Because we do have issues in society with alcohol… and I can see the damage it does to everybody.”