The funny thing is, as I read through this report on the coming decision on the new gym, I find reporter Chuck Clement seeming to go to great pains to avoid mentioning the new gym. Start with the headline: "Board to Consider Action on MHS Renovations." Renovations—not new construction, but renovations, the smaller portion of the project, gets the lead. Perhaps we can cut Clement some slack here: he's simply following the language of the school board agenda, which refers strictly to high school renovations and makes no mention of the new gym.
But then count paragraphs: the MDL article has 19. We don't find one word about the new gym until paragraph 16, by which point 90% of readers have long since turned to the classifieds and entertainment news. Prior to paragraph 16, every line is carefully crafted with the words the board wants to use to sell this project as a necessity and downplay the enormous expense for play-space:
- Paragraph 8 mentions the 65,700 square feet that will be renovated for $7.4 million first. Then the paragraph turns to the apparently secondary information that we will build "62,000 square feet of new space that would cost about $8.64 million."
- The very next paragraph details the science, music, culinary, woodworking, and auto mechanics space we'll get from the renovation.
- Following are code changes, energy efficiency gains, ADA compliance, technology upgrades... all the reasons board president Jay Niedert says this project is necessary "to provide the best education for students" (Clement's paraphrase).
But the snow job falls apart at paragraph 16:
Most of the new space in the proposal would involve the construction of a new gym just north of the current middle school gym. School officials have argued during previous school board meetings that critics of the project have focused too much attention on the new gym proposal [Chuck Clement, "Board to Consider Action on MHS Renovations," Madison Daily Leader, 2010.10.08].
Actually, it seems that, given where the majority of the money is headed, it's the school board that's focusing too much attention on building a new gym.
According to Niedert, constructing a new building isn't practical in the present economic environment, so renovating the high school provides a good compromise. He added that the current school building still offers many good features.
"It's really a matter of having a modern facility and doing major renovations to get things up to code," Niedert said [Clement, 2010.10.08].
Wait: building a new building isn't practical... unless it's a new gym building? Now I'm really confused. If the economics won't support spending a few extra million to build a new instructional space, how can the board tell us the economics do support spending even more on play space for a small fraction of the student population and seats for a couple thousand people to sit and spectate?
Renovating the high school is a great idea. I hope the school board passes that $7.4 million part of the plan. I hope they scratch the $8.64 million directed at the new gym and apply some of that money toward real educational improvements for the high school.
I also hope they and the local press quit with the word games and admit this project is more about building a new gym than renovating the high school.