Prom in a barn?


Photo courtesy of Leah Abraham

One fifty-minute test drive later, pictured is the outside of Sweeney Barn. The inconvenience and safety concerns of driving such a distance at night have thrown many seniors off more than the name and the venue itself.

This year’s senior prom, originally slated for April 14 at The River View at Occoquan, is now set to take place at Sweeney Barn in Manassas, leaving students torn over the location’s aesthetics and its inconvenient distance.

The original date is a religious observance day, which means no school-sponsored activities can be conducted that day. This, combined with scheduling conflicts with The River View, resulted in both the date and the location being moved.

“The River View did not have any other availability when we needed to have prom,” said Class of 2023 sponsor Elizabeth Wahl. “May 13 was when we could do it because there weren’t any religious holidays or [school events such as] spring sports. The hard thing when we’re looking at venues for prom is they have to be pretty big venues. We need to have them for at least 400 people, and that really narrows the scope of where we can do prom. [Sweeney Barn] was [also] cheaper than The River View.”

Sweeney Barn was built in 1939 to serve as a dairy barn, but it was abandoned for several decades until its 2018 renovation. Now, the venue boasts a Lower Hall as a ceremony space and a Great Hall, the former hayloft, where prom will occur.

“Personally, I’m not excited about the prom barn,” said senior Olivia Gondek. “I think I just envisioned my prom as being very fancy. Also, unlike other schools, we only get a senior prom, so to have our one chance to dress up in gowns and kind of indulge in such decadence being wasted on a barn feels like a slap in the face.”

Despite being a relatively new event hall, Sweeney Barn disappoints many seniors. The idea that the venue is a “barn” in and of itself sounds unappealing, as it is unlike the typical fancy venues like The River View. Aside from the pretty chandeliers and the hardwood floor, the Great Hall still looks more like a barn than an actual event venue. Additionally, while the entire venue is enough to fit about 500 people, according to Sweeney Barn’s website, the Great Hall has a 200-seating and 325-standing capacity, which is less than the expected 400 people Wahl said they needed to account for.

“I definitely hear what people are saying. I think it still goes back to the size of the venue that we needed. There are not a lot of options, and they get pulled really quickly,” said Wahl. “Actually, it’s a beautiful location. It has a lot of space. It has a lot of utility we can use for prom, so I’m excited for it to be there.”

Although the spacing may not be as large an issue as it seems, the distance of the prom location creates more problems. The drive to the barn is 40 minutes by highway and close to an hour avoiding highways, which doesn’t take into account additional plans some groups may have, such as going to locations like Old Town and D.C. to take photos and have dinner before heading to prom. Not only is this much more inconvenient, but it can also be risky. Relatively inexperienced teenage drivers taking such a long trip to Manassas and back late in the evening will make for unsafe roads.

“Let’s be real here, some people are not going to be in their best shape, and it’s dangerous for people to be driving 40 minutes away at eight o’clock at night,” said Gondek.

If students are not only dissatisfied with the location but are also concerned about distance, then planning should have considered this. Money is a primary factor in choosing a venue, but convenience and student satisfaction should be as well. Giving seniors a say in where prom should be would be helpful when considering these two factors.

“Being in there for four hours and paying [40 to 60 dollars], we should be comfortable [with where prom is],” said senior Andrea McCoy.

Despite complaints, many seniors are still opting to go to prom. In the end, it is a time to celebrate the end of their last year of high school and have a good time with friends. There just needed to be more careful consideration in choosing the right location in terms of both aesthetics and ability to get there.

“I do think students should have a say in prom location, but it’s hard to please everybody. Our senior class sponsors try their best to do what’s right for our class,” said senior Hermela Moges. “I know everyone thinks [the location] is bad because it’s in a barn or that it’s too far, but I think the place will be worth it.”

Although the location isn’t the most ideal, it’s understandable that costs, timing, and overall limited options also factored into deciding where it should be. The best thing to do now is to enjoy the last months of high school, dress up for the barn, and make the most of the night.

“Prom is a one-time experience that I would love to go have with my friends,” said senior Peyton Eisenach. “The location won’t change that.”