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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Forget the Gym; Fix Madison High School

...but don't you mess with my beloved library!

I'm sorry I missed the public meeting Thursday on plans to renovate my alma mater dear, Madison High School. From my reading of Friday's MDL, it appears my fellow citizens and the architects discussed a lot of practical, educationally sound improvements for our middle-aged high school. They also appear to have validated the position I laid out in the 2008 school board election: that we shouldn't spend taxpayer dollars on a gym expansion until we have addressed facility issues that have a clear negative impact on educational activities.

So what needs doing before a bigger gym with more seats? How about this list from Friday's article:
  • More science lab space
  • Bigger auditorium stage and updated sound and light system
  • Bigger band and chorus practice areas
  • Bigger shop areas for advanced vocational courses
  • A dedicated special ed classroom (MHS doesn't have one?!)
  • More workable art studio and exhibit space
  • Separate space for the ceramics kiln (we had trouble with that back when I threw pots in Jill Frederick's classroom)
  • More home ec kitchen space for advanced culinary classes (that sounds yummy!)
  • Upgraded lighting and electrical outlets
  • More teacher workrooms
I challenge anyone to make the argument that a gym with more bleachers will provide more practical educational benefits than any of the above improvements. Fix those items first, and if there's any money left, then maybe, maybe, we can think about more seating where people can sit and watch sports.

One suggestion from the article I don't like: moving the library. "Should the library be the first thing you should see when you walk through the door?" asks architect Jeff Nelson. When it's a library as spectacular as the Madison High School library, I say, "Heck yeah!" That big open space with all those windows and all those books is the heart of our high school, perhaps the only inspiring architecture in an otherwise grim slab of 1960s concrete. And conceptually, I like the feng shui of walking into a high school and immediately seeing a center of independent learning, an open, well-lit gathering place for all students and staff. A grand central library is more inspiring than doors and walls... and it does more for the educational mission of the school than another gym.


  1. The Madison High School Library, due to its design, is several feet lower than all the other floors of the building that surround it. It acts like a fish bowl, allowing moist cool air to gather at the floor level which leads to mold and mildew problems. That creates respiratory and health problems for students and staff. It might also be a perceived security issue. More importantly, the library at the high school does not meet ADA regulations for access because of its steps. One of the most important changes is to move the High School Office a few feet to the east into the old board room so officials can see the front entrance.

  2. Seriously? I lived in that library running Mundt and the debate team, and I never noticed moisture or air quality problems. Sure, we need a ramp or two, but can we fix that air problem with a couple well-placed fans? The library really is an impressive space that should be spotlighted.

  3. Isn't the library still higher than the base of the auditorium?

    I don't remember mold or moisture, either, but that was 21 years ago. ay-yi-yi.

    I can see the point about the stairs, but isn't there a workaround?

    Any architect who thinks that a library should not be a focal point of a school is the wrong architect for the job.

    The library is the repository of knowledge; classrooms are an attempt to impart some of that knowledge to others with varying degrees of success.

  4. Yup, still higher, O-Michael. You'd be surprised how little has changed in those 21 years.

    And as I would expect, you get the architectural point here. How can anyone think a library doesn't deserve a central place in a school? I love South Dakota, but when it comes to public buildings, we suffer a serious AADD—aesthetic attention deficit disorder.

  5. I read the article too and was suprised that anyone would think the library should not be the first thing you see when you enter the building. And I wasn't sure that mixing seniors and sixth graders in a library is the best idea; big age difference and academic age difference.

    I agree fix the areas that need fixing, but it sounds like they were for almost gutting the building and starting over. And of course the gym got a slight mention. When the capital outlay fund is in a good position, then I know the next big item was the high school renovation. But don't get carried away! Keep the costs in mind, especially in the present situation with rising taxes and coming inflation.

    But I still say the gym should be financed by other ways than simply the capital outlay fund or an opt-out. Think outside the box. And be honest about the costs and benefits that a new gym would bring to Madison. And find a way to finance it that doesn't rest entirely on property owners. I personally liked the last gym idea as far as how it was laid out. But it was not promoted honestly and was designed to rest solely on the backs of property owners.

  6. i agree totally with CH - that library is the crown jewel of the school - a wonderful place that i spent many hours in as well. the fixes needed seem awfully easy and cheap compared to moving or changing it - 1. put in ramp, 2. ventilate it properly, 3. if its so darn dangerous - put in bullet proof glass or something...

    i always love the horrid design ideas that cost an absolutely crazy amount of money that always seem to get passed/built... especially when in a case like this, a simple tweak or two is all thats needed. it would without a doubt be the difference of having a beautiful school vs. having one that looks more like a kid-prison.

    i do agree with the idea of moving the offices a bit east so they have a great view of the front entry - heck, do even better and copy the library full-of-windows look for that whole corner!

    as for the gym... yea, sure, it would be nice to have more seating - but you have to remember that this is a school, not an entertainment complex - i didnt learn any of the math or science that i needed to do engineering while i was in that gym - and for the amount of years that the gym has been "just fine", it can stand to stay that way a bit longer. the more important repairs and renovations of the actual classrooms should come first.

  7. sorry about the last comment being anonymous - i couldnt for the life of me remember my password...


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