Monday, March 12, 2007

Chris Terris: Pen High gym headed for destruction?

The following letter was printed in the Herald (28 Jan 2007):

The time has come to start some dialogue regarding the future of the Pen High gymnasium that is scheduled for destruction. Neither the school district nor the city has expressed any interest in saving the facility.

Despite the fact that Pen High will have a new gym as part of the ongoing construction, it makes no sense to destroy the old gym. First, it is a beautiful facility with great sight lines and a history and ambiance that won’t be duplicated by the new facility. Second, it was only a few years ago that it received half a million dollar upgrade. It will take a relatively modest financial commitment—estimated to be a million dollars—to make it a functional, stand-alone structure; however, its value to the community and school district go far beyond this.

Since the loss of the south gym at Pen High, physical education programs have struggled to accommodate the number of students—classes with sixty to ninety students in one gym are not very educationally productive. Add to this, the recent government legislation which restricts user fees (and, thus, threatens courses such as outdoor recreation, which have helped relieve pressure on facility use), and it doesn’t take much foresight to see the potential challenges that could be alleviated with a second facility. In addition, community user groups that often struggle for suitable gymnasiums must be dumbfounded to find out that a viable facility will meet the wrecking ball soon. Cadets; community soccer, baseball, and football programs; community center programs; and others all battle for gym access. Does it make sense to reduce the number of facilities we have in our community? Members of our business community benefiting from the visitors created by tournaments in our gyms must question the move as well. Ultimately, the cries by governments and educators about the dangers of obesity and need for regular fitness opportunities seem rather hollow given the lack of interest in maintaining facilities that we already possess.

It seems that a shared agreement between the school district and city makes the most sense given the benefit to both. The roadblocks standing in the way are not insurmountable. The political willpower may be.

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