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Friday, November 12, 2010

New Gym? How About New Fine Arts Building...

...and an Events Center at 34 and 81?

There's nothing like the prospect of raising folks' property taxes by hundreds of dollars to get the creative juices flowing. I've proposed my alternative construction and school schedule to save Madison Central School District taxpayers millions of dollars and avoid the need to build a new high school gym. My neighbor Gerry Lange sees philanthropy as a better funding source than a tax hike in a shaky economy.

Now neighbor Charlie Johnson offers another alternative that strikes my fancy: demonstrate our educational priorities by skipping the new gym and building a fine arts annex:

In the whole scheme of things, why don’t we just build a brand new fine arts annex to the west side of the high at a fraction of the cost of the plan proposed. Then leave the present PE gym in the high school as is with some updates to the locker rooms. The way it is now we are using music and band as pawns to tear out gym space so we can justify 8 million plus for alumni basketball seating.

Charlie hits the nail on the head. Our school district has concocted a deliberately complicated architectural shell game, removing an entirely practical phys ed and athletic practice space, shoehorning a complex of classrooms and performance space into it, and thus making it seem that we just have to build another sports space. This is semi-blackmail: give us our new gym, or we'll say you killed the new facilities for music and theater!

If we're determined to build new space, why not keep the old high school gym for the purpose it serves and build new arts space from scratch to better meet our students educational needs?

Charlie isn't wholly against building a new gym. He just thinks our school tax dollars ought to focus on schooling, not varsity sports and bigger bleachers. He thinks an events center would be a fine development for Madison, but that such a facility ought to be a joint project of the city, college, and private donors, with the school district chipping in to rent the space for occasional big games. There's even a great spot for such an event center, right on the corner of Highways 81 and 34.

Think of it: instead of tucking a big events facility away in northeast Madison, in the middle of a residential neighborhood where basketball parking and traffic clogs neighborhood streets, we could have a spectacular events center right on the highway, where everyone who comes through Madison will see it. Now there's a sports facility I could get behind.


  1. I am wondering why the need for a new and different band room when there are now approximately 80 or so students in band. In 1997 there were approximately 180 kids in band and they all fit in the present band room. So now the band numbers are half and they can't use the present room? It is correct this is a shell game with no thought given to a less costly way to renovate the needed parts of the present school building. The board told the architects essentially to do whatever they wanted, and of course the architects wanted a grand project, then they voted to spend more money on further specs etc. Now the propaganda machine is in full force to use tours showing the worst facets of the prsent building, favorable press releases, and recently used candidate yard signs. Why the sudden interest in saving money by using free used political signs? Why not a real interest in building what we can afford and really need?

  2. Sorry, this was Nonnie again. It is too bad that no one else is willing to speak up besides Gerry Lange, Cory, Charlie, and us.

  3. The thing is Nonnie, everyone agrees we need improvements and at least this really is something that would attract people to the community. Not like that stupid housing project which was just a scam and in that case the only ones who questioned it was Rod, Cory and me so I'm well acquainted with raising an issue, looking around, and no one else seems to care, but in fact Cory left a note for you about meeting to discuss it and others probably would have been interested. Individual grumbling does nothing. As you ask, what is really needed?

  4. CAH:

    I wish there were more progressive minds at work that would be more interested in co-opting the gym facility rather than eliminating it. Honestly, a large gym facility would be a nice thing to have so long as it would serve the broader community rather than be used exclusively for sports teams.

    If the facility could be used to get a larger proportion of the middle school/high school kids involved and active I would consider it a very positive investment. The vast majority of such students leave HS without having physical activities as part of their daily life. I consider this one of the great failings of high schools. I have found that being strong in body synergistically enhances the mind.

    I would wager that your choice of bike riding helps you substantially. But you are in the minority. Very few individuals maintain an active lifestyle.

    If a new gym could be co-opted provide students that wouldn't normally join a sports team with more activity options it should be supported.

  5. Lets pump the brakes here for a minute. Above the text box where I am typing right now it says "Be honest, be real." Lets all do that and stop with the speculation and insinuations of shell games and propaganda. Part of the original post includes a portion of Mr. Johnson saying "...tear out gym space so we can justify 8 million plus for alumni basketball seating." and others have declared or hinted heavily that this is an 8 million dollar gym. That is simply not a true statement. The gym portion is 2 point something million (close enough to call it 3 million). If you have a gripe with the planned renovation then fine but at least have the facts straight guys...you are your own worst enemy right now because nobody should take your posts seriously if you are lying or intentionally ignoring fact. It is sad that some will and in doing so will not be an informed voter.

    I am insulted that you have a group of people trying to get renovations done that address learning environment, code and fire safety issues, and accessibility regulations and yet instead of finding out what is happening you jump to the conclusion and accuse them of having a sinister motive. I guess the phrase no good deed goes unpunished really rings true...its just sad. No other word for it.

    Chris Patrick Bacon

  6. Chris: have you been in town long? Trust us: we locals know the history. We know the game being played. We know why the school and the local paper won't mention the words "new gym."

    Tony: I could roll with you there. But I don't hear anyone talking about promoting more lifelong activities. The motivation is providing more seats where we can pay passive homage to a few varsity players. We can achieve that lifelong physical education jsut as well with Charlie's cheaper plan, or mine.

    John: ditto!

    Linda: Indeed, the offer stands. Organizing a coherent discussion of and opposition to this wasteful spending project is the perfect topic for the next 9-12 Project meeting. But if you take me up on the offer, you might have to cook extra hot dogs for all the people who'd come.

  7. Chris, the thing is, this is real money we should take seriously. I regret not taking the tour and being more informed. I remember when people were against building the band shell at the old Junior High in the 1970s. We used to walk across the street to the basement of the old armory. Kind of like a dungeon down there, but it was our dungeon. Small and cramped probably, but still we learned. I even had Bill Ireland as a substitute now and then. That pole building (where Interlakes Community Action is now) couldn't have cost more than 200k. Did it really improve our learning? I'm not sure it did. There really are valid concerns about getting what we need. That should be communicated without expecting people to take a tour.

  8. Charlie Johnson11/12/2010 6:56 PM

    First of all a $17 million bond issue is not going to fly. Earlier when media reports started on the remodel efforts at MHS, figures tossed around were 6 to 9 million to address facility upgrades. Then the gym proposal was injected into the planning. Costs estimates were in the $8 million range. Chris, I didn't make this up. Nor can I explain how a $3 million price tag is now thrown around. What we do not need to do is tear apart a perfectly good gym that serves the need of PE and practice times. What we need is an event center that serves a greater population and can be utilized year around. In the meantime, we need to place prioity on the fine arts. We can add an annex I am sure at a far less cost than a new gym. My concern is that we do something for those who don't have the voice or political power to turn matters their way. Participants in the fine arts always seem to play second fiddle-witness the decline of the debate program. Nobody seems concerned for those on fixed incomes to pay the additional property taxes on their homes. I try to make a modest living but the farmland that i own will incur approximately $3000 /yearly in additional taxes. My local township roads need more fixing and money. I would like to see additional taxes go there. My concern is not be viewed as negative, backwards, or head in the sand. Rather it is to challenge careful thought, concern for others(especially the poor), and to implement wise use of resources. We need to be both progressive and realistic. It does not need to be one or the other. In summary, let's just think for thinking sakes.

  9. I would like a meeting with all parties concerned about this $18 remodel/gym project. It doesn't have to be the 9.12 project though doing it. How about someone organizing a meeting and let's get some discussion going?

    I also question the need for new construction for office space. I agree that the office should face the entryway in front for security issues, but by simply moving the offices around and maybe moving a wall or two, this could be done without new construction, couldn't it?

  10. Michael Black11/12/2010 9:35 PM

    The valuation listed in the paper of ag land isn't quite correct. Land is now bringing several thousand more dollars per acre more than accepted number.

    If the voters reject the bond issue, the district will make improvements as it can. Those yearly improvements may cost much more in the long run than doing it all at one time. The building has some issues that will need to be addressed soon. The infrastructure is approaching 50 years old. We cannot expect electrical systems of the 1960's to last forever. Security, safety and accessibility are the driving forces for the remodel.

  11. @Chris Bacon: Hmm... the above all sound like pretty informed voters to me. You shouldn't take it as an "insult" that fellow citizens come to different conclusions about educational and fiscal priorities.

    Linda, if anyone organizes a meeting (and the 9-12 Project has the network, online presence, momentum, and logical political motivation to do so), the trickiest part may be navigating the wide variety of conflicting views. Even in the small gathering in this comment section of bond issue opponents, you have diverse opinions: No project needed, Everything but the gym, Gym later in different facility.... If a group organized and campaigned, what would be the uniting factor? Would we be pushing a No vote to...

    --kill the project?
    --force the board to revise the plan and submit a new one for public vote?
    --give our group time to propose a viable alternative with a lower cost? (I'm not sure an outside group can afford the architect easily generate the consensus necessary.)

  12. My idea of a meeting would be to get some facts out that are not being said. Like the true value of ag land and the cost to those property owners. Like whether or not any more fiscally responsible plan was ever considered or asked for. Why was the domino theory needed which ends up with a new gym. Why is more space needed for offices in the front of the building. Why is the capital outlay fund tied up for 12 more years paying off the elementary school when the original plan was for it to be paid off much sooner. How much will it cost each of the committee members and present advocates of the new plan compared to how much it will cost other property owners. Why is this being proposed as partly economic development to bring people into our city when the city won't step up to help fund it and this idea has not been proven out with the last two school building projects.

    We all know some renovations need to be made, but how much of the proposed $18 M project is truly needed and how much is a wish list to make sure we don't lose students to Brookings or Mitchell (I know this won't happen, but it was kinda hinted at that our school is so sub par) during a tour.

  13. While having open tours was positive, the information that would answer many questions should have been (and maybe will be) given to us directly from the school system (not through MDL reporting). A web site would be nice, with the drawings, improvements, and justifications. I'm sure most people are wondering (possibly in disbelief) why there is such a high price tag, as secure, safe and accessible don't cost 18M. Champagne taste, beer budget. Many older people tout their one-room-school experiences, so while we need adequate and even competitive, as Eve F. said it should be about what's going on inside. If we need a little flash to garner some attention, fine, but this is Madison and we should define success in our own way. More than just a vote, the community should be given a way to review all the information and give them direct feedback. For this amount of money, we should expect lots of shared information which I haven't seen.

  14. Madison is a net exporter of students through open enrollment to much closer schools than Brookings and Mitchell. Rutland and Chester are drawing our students away... and it's not because those districts have spectacularly better physical facilities. People choose schools based on what happens in the building, not on the building itself.

    John: you're right. Madison Central still hasn't figured out how to use the Internet for open government. They pass a massive bond issue, and the only related info I can find on their website is the meeting minutes and tour schedule. If I'm running a school asking voters to approve spending $17 million, the first thing I do is post every drawing, financial breakdown, and other relevant document I have on the project online... along with a superintendent's blog where the public can comment. Even former Madison superintendent John Sweet blogs. Check out Dr. Sweet's post on his current district's property tax levy. He even uses hyperlinks!

  15. I would like to see an events center built downtown where the current armory sits.

    I had original thought of this a few years ago and wanted a parking ramp built where the old rosebud building was located, but it is a little late for that now.

    I need to stop sitting on these ideas and turn them into action.

    Jeremiah Corbin

  16. Jeremiah! Be the squeaky wheel! Run for city commission!

  17. Some anonymous coward swears at me and tells me that if I were in the building I'd know "another story."

    1. Why would anyone be afraid to put her or his name to such a simple comment?

    2. I spent seven years of my life in that building. I scheduled rounds in almost every corner of that building for the Karl E. Mundt Debate Tournament. I know the building. I know what it needs. I know it does not need a $2.9 million luxury gym.

  18. 3. I can tell from inside and outside the building that the fine arts have always been given less respect than athletics. It's time to change that priority. That's the thrust of Charlie Johnson's really good idea to focus on building a new fine arts facility instead of using it as blackmail to get the fabled new gym where more people can sit and pay homage to a few elite athletes.


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