Three years ago, local voters told the Madison Central School Board and other athletic supporters pretty firmly that they did not want to spend $5.83 million (plus interest) to build a 2170-seat gym. That defeated gym would have been larger than the 2000-seat gym Sioux Falls Lincoln built that year for $2.7 million.
Now the new gym is back, big and bad as ever. MDL reports that architect Jeff Nelson and intern Jacob Bunde presented plans to the school board last night for giving the high school its first refit since its construction 45 years ago. The much-needed renovation of the existing building would run $7.4 million. But while we're at it, the architect is floating a plan to pour $8.64 million into 62,000 square feet of new construction... most of which will be a 2000- to 2500-seat gym.
Excuse me, but can we ever just focus on the problem at hand? The high school needs serious work. The theater, band room, and chorus room all need expansion so students have room to perform. Too many classrooms are closed off from natural light and air. The offices need to be opened up for better access, monitoring, and security. (It tears at my soul to see our spectacular library, the finest looking high school library in the state, sacrificed for that purpose, but I guess there's no winning this argument with the architect.) There are a wealth of educational needs that require immediate facility upgrades.
The fabled new gym, however, remains a luxury. No child is losing out on an opportunity to play basketball or volleyball or any other indoor sport due to lack of playing space. We have a gym on site and the DSU fieldhouse where we can play our games. By no stretch of the imagination do the Madison Bulldogs need more seating space than the Lincoln Patriots. The idea that we would spend more on new game space than we plan to spend on upgrading the entire high school, especially when that new space is mostly for sitting and watching rather than playing and learning, is absurd.
One thing at a time, school board: fix the high school first. Don't skimp. Do it right for all academic departments. Then when the high school is done and done right, we can save up again and consider non-educational upgrades for spectators.
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