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School Board president: Thompson, N.D., school project is 'more than just a gym'

THOMPSON, N.D.--"Why do we need a gym?" This is the most often asked question in Thompson since a building project began to be discussed in 2012. This question also is often followed by, "If we need classrooms, why don't we just build classrooms?...

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THOMPSON, N.D.-"Why do we need a gym?" This is the most often asked question in Thompson since a building project began to be discussed in 2012. This question also is often followed by, "If we need classrooms, why don't we just build classrooms?"

Unfortunately, in this age of soundbites, headlines, and tweets, the conversation has all too often ended there. And unfortunately for Thompson Public School, the answers to "Why do we need a gym" and "Why don't we just build classrooms" require more time and more information than can be captured in a soundbite, headline, or tweet.

Thompson Public School already has two gyms. But, we miss the important facts if we just end the discussion there. For example, while one of the Thompson school's two gyms is a big room with high ceilings, tall walls and ample floor space, the other gym does not have these things.

The other gym was built almost 60 years ago in 1957. It has a sharply sloping wood ceiling supported by big wooden beams that protrude from the walls onto the floor. Aesthetically, it's beautiful, and it met the needs of the students and the teachers when it was built and for many years after.

But, for many more years now-decades-the users of that gym report that it's no longer functional. There simply is not the floor space needed for a functional gymnasium.

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After the first two votes in Thompson failed, the School Board-besides conducting enrollment and facility studies-had long, hard discussions about that space. We looked at the costs to make it function as a gym. We looked at straightening the ceilings and walls and removing the small stage, but the cost estimates to do that alone were over $2.5 million.

It just does not make sense to spend that kind of money to make that space function as a gym.

What does make sense is building classrooms in that space. That space is right in the middle of the elementary wing. Architects have said we do not need to remove the beams or straighten the ceiling for classrooms. We can gain four classrooms, a teacher workroom and many smaller testing/tutoring rooms by repurposing that old gym. All of these are things we do not have.

The new construction of a midsize gym with a stage, new technical education room, Family and Consumer Sciences room, business education room and interactive TV room paired with the renovation of the old gym, the original 1973 industrial arts room and other spaces will give Thompson 12 new classrooms-classrooms that meet the needs of the 21st century and our growing enrollment.

Two gyms with ample floor space are something most students, staff and communities have. Nearby in North Dakota, the schools in Park River, Northwood, Northern Cass, Mayville, Hillsboro and Larimore-schools of varying enrollments and organization-all have two gyms with enough floor space.

I don't make this comparison because Thompson needs to keep up with the Joneses. I make it to show that the project is not out of the norm.

But, again, the conversation shouldn't end there. There are other important needs this project addresses.

The 1957 heating, ventilation and air conditioning system must be replaced. The school currently budgets about $70,000 a year to fund the constant repairs the system requires. It has been patched and repaired for decades. Every ounce of viability has been squeezed out of it. Two different organizations have evaluated it and told us that the system has surpassed its life expectancy and needs to be replaced. The cost to do so is estimated at $1.4 million and includes a new boiler.

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Nor can we stop there. Currently, about 500 students eat lunch over three periods in a "lunchroom" that consists of space originally designed as two high school classrooms. Each room was designed to hold 20 to 25 students. The cost to open up walls and provide the structural support necessary for a large open space is estimated at roughly $1.1 million.

And we're still not done. Security: I, like many who live in small towns across America, take it for granted. We no longer can do so. The kids, staff and teachers deserve a secure, safe school. That requires relocating and consolidating offices and installing a system that will allow for one secured, supervised entrance.

Even with all this, there are more issues that the project addresses. It is a large project, and each part depends upon the completion of another part. This increases the cost effectiveness, but cost effective does not mean cheap.

As a homeowner, my taxes will increase by $47 a month. Farmers will pay more, too. As a school board member, I do not take this request lightly, and I know that my fellow board members also don't take it lightly. Everyone needs to decide for themselves whether it is affordable. If it isn't, I and the others understand.

But if the cost is affordable, then I ask Thompson voters to please consider supporting this project that really is much more than just a gym. Thank you.

Webber is president of the Thompson School Board.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2016
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