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.

Marylin Cleland Barnay: Pen High facilities an asset to the community

This letter was printed in the Western News Advertiser

By Marylin Cleland Barnay
Mar 11 2007

Reference to the letters recently published in the Penticton Western News regarding the urgency to keep the Pen High gymnasium/Pen High auditorium from being flattened: “Time running out for historic buildings” (Fedorak Mar 2, Terris, Jan.28). Mr. Fedorak and Mr. Terris echo thoughts voiced by many in our local newspapers since the funding announcement by School District 67 for a new senior secondary school October 14, 2005.

Larry Little as chairman, School District 67, (picture and front-page article Kathy Michaels Mar 2 and subsequent letter to the editor), is “looking for an organization” to come forward with a plan before the end of the month in order to avoid demolition in spring of 2008. Do we have such an organization in our community? An individual? A benefactor? Mr. Little proudly states that the new senior secondary school will have more gym space than the north and south gyms combined. Bravo! With the number of students I am sure that will be appreciated and with public awareness for more activity, this will be a further bonus. Obviously our students will be well taken care of.

What about our community needs? Can Penticton be like other cities that provide facilities for the community like The Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Orpheum, in Vancouver, Massey Theatre in New Westminster? Communities that are thinking as a community make concerted efforts to utilize what they have, make available and provide for arts, culture and recreation thus confirming that these are vital and essential elements in a balanced community. Community organizations, education and city work together for the benefit of all.

Ergo, realizing the need for an auditorium/gym in 1948 when our high school was being rebuilt. Forward-thinking school, city leaders and citizens applauded the chance for the “companion buildings” (Pen High auditorium and gymnasium) as an addition to the new high school. (At the official opening on May 8, 1952 the cost was shared by the city and education department — for all in the community).

In recent years as a “designated classroom”, accessibility of the auditorium has been restricted, conservation has been minimal, uninviting to touring performers. To upgrade and improve would be considered positive. Financially at this time, it seems practical. The recently talked about state-of-the-art performing art centre (by the PDPAFS) is anticipated. Right now, however, it cannot take the place of these two on Eckhardt East but, with the suggestions of growth, it too, should become a necessity and an asset.

To many of us retaining Pen High auditorium/gym is not obscure but rather, preserves a valuable community asset. Serious solving is unavoidable! Demolition costs and additional piles at the landfill? Or protecting the assets we have now for our community?

Update: Some progress!

There was a very small story on page A5 of the Okanagan Saturday newspaper (10 March 07) titled: "Facilities' fate not sealed just yet".

"[...] Penticton city council has ordered a detailed look into saving the Pen-Hi auditorium and gymnasium. At a special in-camera meeting on Friday, council ordered city staff to investigate costs and other issues related to taking over the 730-seat auditorium as a stand-alone facility, as well as the adjacent gymnasium.

Mayor Jake Kimberley emphasized council has not decided whether or not the city will take over the two school facilities, but recognizes the community need for both performing arts and recreational space. 'At this stage, we are not even sure if these facilities will meet those needs and we must do due diligence first,' he said. Previously, Kimberley has said the city has no interest in preserving the gymnasium, but would only consider taking over the auditorium."

What a difference a couple of days and a show of public support make... Speaking of public support, there were several new letters to the editor published this week:
  • Marylin Cleland Barnay provided some historical background on community involvement in the auditorium (letter from the Western News Advertiser reprinted here)
  • David Snyder encouraged the city to "avert a disgraceful loss" in the Herald.
  • Jeanne Lamb took issue with the Herald's stance against city involvement ("Yes, council is responsible"). In discussing the chasm between the school board and city government, she points out that, "A majority of the taxpayers served by these two elected groups are one and the same."