Huntley High School may move graduation to Willow Creek in South Barrington
Huntley High School seniors may not have to travel as far as some of their predecessors for their 2022 graduation ceremony under a proposal the Huntley School District 158 board will consider Thursday.
The board will vote on a proposal to host the high school's 2022 graduation ceremony at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, the latest of several locations for the ceremony over the past decade.
The ceremony was once held at the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, but the $28,000 agreement to use the arena ended in 2014, Superintendent Scott Rowe told the board earlier this month. The location also came with some logistical problems. Each student was allowed 10 tickets, and each additional ticket cost $10.
"I can tell you that from living in that role of principal, it was an absolute nightmare to have to tell parents they had to pay $10 more and then only to come to the venue, and then there were plenty of seats," said Rowe, who was high school principal when the agreement ended.
The school then tried the basketball arena at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where graduation was held from 2015 to 2019. Rowe said it worked better with more seating for families and a lower cost at $12,000.
"Students had as many tickets as they wanted, which was a very big deal," he said. "The challenge with that was the only weekend that was available to us was Memorial Day weekend."
That presented its own challenges for the school, including the availability of staff to attend the ceremony and the timing of the ceremony, which was at 7:30 p.m.
No large ceremony took place in 2020, and the school held three different ceremonies on the football field in 2021 to comply with pandemic restrictions.
Now the school will try Willow Creek, a place Rowe said was not always a venue available to them.
"It's much closer, giving families the ability to not only travel to Barrington but go to dinner afterward," Rowe said.
A Willow Creek ceremony would cost more than NIU at $15,000, but Rowe said the school would have more flexibility with the time of the ceremony, which they plan to hold on May 22.
"It's an extremely comfortable, extremely professional environment. I think for the slight increase in cost, it would be a very nice change in pace for our families," he said.
Willow Creek can seat about 6,800 people, Rowe said. Each student will be limited to eight tickets, but Rowe said they don't think the high school graduation ceremony ever attracts more than 7,000 people, and they will work out a way to distribute tickets to those who need more.
Rowe said he toured the Willow Creek facility in October and thinks it will meet the district's needs well.
"The technology is what you would hope for your child on graduation day. It has the capabilities for live streaming," he said.
The district's agreement with Willow Creek would only be for one year, which Rowe said is a Willow Creek policy. However, he said church officials were open to working out a new agreement each following year.
While it is a church, Willow Creek is nondenominational. Rowe said it should not be a problem for the public high school. He said the church does not have any religious imagery on display either.
However, Paula Yensen, president of the McHenry County National Organization for Women, sent a letter Monday asking the District 158 board to oppose the contract, arguing the church does not welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community.
"It would be hypocritical for this Board to say that all students should feel safe and welcome, but then force our LGBTQ+ students to participate in an event at a place where they are most definitely not welcome," wrote Yensen, who also serves as a McHenry County Board member.
Willow Creek officials could not be reached for comment.