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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Can't Fix Madison High School Without Building New Gym

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.


  1. Don't you know that sports outweight academics, Cory?!?

    I agree 100% with your post here, Cory (don't faint!)

    Many people in Madison are now struggling economically though and having a hard time just getting the basics, let alone luxuries. Many have lost jobs, many have had no raise or taken a pay cut, many are on Social Security fixed income, more district residents are utlizing the food bank and other social services. This is not the time to bring this luxury up again.

    Can this be done simply by a decision of the school board, or does it have to be referred for a vote? If I remember correctly, if the cost was under a certain percentage of the total valuation of the district, can they do this by using capital outlay funds and no vote? The capital outlay fund should be doing well as valuations are continuing to rise and the 3% levy remains static, thus more money is pouring into the capital outlay fund. Is all that money burning a hole in somebody's pocket?

    How is this going to be funded? All on the backs of property taxpayers? Last time one of the main backers of the new gym didn't pay one penny in property taxes in this school district; I'm sure he had no problem with it as he didn't intend to pay anything toward it.

    There was talk after the gym was defeated last time of looking for other ways to pay for it besides just property taxes. Is the school board still considering this or not? I hope that the school board takes all the above into consideration before making any decision to build a new gym, which although always nice, is definitely not necessary.

  2. Linda, I respond to your sensible points by offering the following suggestion, in all sincerity and good will: this big spending item could be a perfect issue for the local 9-12 Project chapter to get active on. Get your fellow local fiscal conservatives together, see if you all can reach some practical consensus, and then do some community activism on this very important local issue. By leading a campaign to promote a sensible and affordable alternative to a new gym in disguise, the 9-12 Project would perform a valuable public service. Secondarily, it would focus your group's efforts on a very specific and tangible local goal, raise visibility, and possibly build membership.

    Perhaps you should invite school board members, the building committee, and/or the superintendent to your next 9-12 meeting for an open forum.

  3. I was among the thousands of basketball fans at the SF Arena this year and in Rapid City last year to watch the Bulldogs win their State A titles. I was at Howard Wood Field to watch the Bulldogs do very well at the state track meet. I am in awe of the Bulldog gymnastics program.

    Sports are just another aspect of a well-rounded education. Athletics are not the most important part of school, BUT they are still important. Madison residents have continually backed spending tax money for recreation: the bike trail, the Community Center and the new swimming pool are the most recent examples.

    As a 1981 MHS graduate, I can tell you that sports were a big part of high school back in the day too. I still cannot understand why the HS gym wasn't built right in the first place: no room or consideration for spectators. The HS gym is useless for anything besides PE and practices.

    Cory, there is more to education that having kids stare blankly into a computer screen.

  4. Michael, if we want to talk about things being built right in the first place, look no further than the theater.

    That has never been the facility it should have been. During my high school days, we routinely packed it for plays and concerts. And we performed on a tiled-stage. Not to mention the dimensions of the theater, the lack of storage, etc.

    And the band room was always full too. When we had the full marching band inside practicing our music, there was barely enough room to fit everyone in.

  5. Cory, the cool thing about the plan that you missed is that the band and choir will be moved into the current HS gym area, which I think is fantastic.

  6. I'd heard about that part, Lauri. I was surprised that wasn't mentioned in the online report from MDL.

    But here's a novel concept: why don't we move athletics into the old gym and old theater, band, and choir space and build a brand new facility for fine arts?

  7. Cory, you forget that it is the parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters aunts, uncles, cousins and friends that want to watch the kids play. The spectators pay taxes.

    Don't think that Madison is alone in having facilities that were not built big enough in the first place: the Rutland gym is too small. Ten more feet in each direction would've made all of the difference in the world, but it was not done right in the first place just like the MMS gym.

    Exercise helps boost test scores in study after study.

  8. Michael, how are the students' exercise opportunities inhibited by a lack of spectator space?

    And since when did spectator space for one sport become an academic concern for the school board? It has nothing to do with academic quality. The lack of academic opportunities, however (only one foreign language offering and no orchestra are just a couple), are the school board's concern.

  9. Michael Black7/14/2010 1:11 PM

    Erin, kids will be more likely to play if the parents can have a place to sit to watch them. The current HS gym has no seating available. The grade school doesn't have it either.

  10. Don't judge this plan on the gym alone. I think the school board will have it on the website so you can see the additional class room space, the improvements for the prostart, the industrial arts, the art room, band and music, the renovations of the theatre, additional storage for nonathletics, renovations for all classrooms, it's way more than a new gym. Which was my first reaction, also, until I listened to the details.

  11. Indeed, Lauri, there is more to the plan than the new gym. But I don't want anyone to get so distracted by the good things that they forget that more than half of the money is being proposed for a bad part of the plan that the voters have already rejected. How about we build that good stuff and leave off the new gym?

  12. Michael Black7/14/2010 3:24 PM

    Cory, what happens if we just continue to do maintenance on the current building?

  13. That's an excellent question. Perhaps if the 9-12 Project will host a public forum with the suoperintendent and the building committee, we can discuss that. Linda?


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