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October 21, 2008 3:00 am

Old PHS gym to be demolished

Written by Tribune Staff

The old Powell High School gym will be demolished, and a new middle school will be built in its place.

Citing the need to move forward, the Park County School District No. 1 board voted Tuesday to proceed with planning for a new middle school facility. The motion to proceed passed 6-1, with Lee Craig casting the dissenting vote.

An earlier motion by Craig to table action until the next monthly board meeting was defeated 5-2. Greg Borcher joined Craig in supporting the delay.

The action came following pleas for more time by Powell City Councilman Jim Hillberry and Ric Rodriguez. Rodriguez led a move to save the gym for use as a community recreation center. Myron Heny, a member of the Powell Recreation Board, presented a statement supporting the board's action.

Hillberry said he spoke to many people who “are in strong favor” of upgrading and using the old gym. He said a majority of the council was “unofficially” in favor of trying to keep the gym.

He asked the board to delay action pending a council meeting next week, when he planned to bring the issue up.
A recent proposal by the Recreation District for a new, smaller facility demonstrated the community's need for a recreation center, Hillberry said.

“It's hard for me personally to say we should replace that building with something smaller,” Hillberry said.

Hillberry said he doesn't understand why the district can't begin planning for a new middle school without designating a site. He urged the board to think long term and “not get in a hurry.”

“I hate to see the decision made without considerable thought and planning,” Hillberry said. “I would encourage you to put your plans on hold.”

Rodriguez reviewed facts about the gym, which he said have not been considered or adequately discussed publicly.

Rodriguez said the 2001 estimate of $4.2 million for bringing the gym up to school building codes were for a total rebuild of the facility, while the estimate for upgrading just the gym was $2.1 million. Assuming 4-percent inflation, he said that would translate into $2.9 million today.

In addition, Rodriguez repeated his contention that, if the gym were handed over to another entity as an existing structure, only limited upgrades would be necessary. He cited an estimate from JGA Architects of $1.7 million for those upgrades.

Rodriguez also criticized the board for not holding a public meeting about the gym and not communicating with the public. He reiterated his contention that the board has other options for a building site, and that the conversion could be accomplished through grants and a capital facilities tax.

Myron Heny told the board that the recreation board voted down a proposal to take over the building because of the operation and maintenance costs for the facility. He also noted that the neither the City Council, nor any other group, has stepped forward asking to take over ownership of the building.

Heny also noted that proposals to take over the gym depend on passing a tax and gaining grants.

“If you don't pass the tax or get the grants, you'll have nothing,” Heny said.

When the board began its discussion, Borcher told Hillberry he had talked to city council members, and in contrast to Hillberry's statement, “none of them say they will take it.”

Hillberry clarified his comment, saying the councilmen favor saving the gym “with the proviso that the city not take possession.” Instead, the city would hand the facility over to a joint powers board.

Borcher indicated that was the problem. Other board members agreed that no other entity has come forward to say they would take the property.

“Somebody has to take the property,” said LeAnne Kindred. “The city had several chances to do it and hasn't.”

Other discussion centered on keeping the school at the same location. Doing so, according to the state's site-size requirements, requires removing the gym. Superintendent Kevin Mitchell said the alternative would be to ask the city to abandon Third and Evarts Streets so the area occupied by the old high school and auditorium could be used.

“If we keep the gym, we lose a middle school site,” said Patty Wurzel. “The board feels strongly about keeping it in the center of town.”

Citing a study of possible sites conducted by an outside consultant last April, Wurzel said “we just paid out a lot of money to be told it's the best site.”

In addition, the state School Facilities Commission has designated the site as the best place for the school.

Board members also noted that the district is under financial pressure to abandon the old high school, which they are maintaining because the middle school needs the lunch room. Increased enrollment in the lower grades also is raising the possibility that the school will be overcrowded in a few years.

Arguing against further delay, Dee Heny challenged the idea that the public had not been given an opportunity to talk to the board.

“We've had lots of public chances for communication,” she said. “This has been going on for at least six months, maybe eight. We've had many board meetings on this issue.”

Kindred also argued against tabling, and said further delay would not resolve the issue.

“Everybody is waiting for someone else to make a decision. Somebody has to make the decision,” she said. “I feel like we've been stringing Mr. Rodriguez along, and that's not fair to him.”

Prior to the final vote, Craig said the board had looked at other options during a work session last week, and he felt those options deserved further consideration.

“I still think there are options on this site while keeping the gym,” Craig said. “I think we'll be a little shortsighted if we don't consider them.”

Dee Heny argued for the motion, saying the board had spent “eight or 10 years” talking about the issue.

“I think this board is trying to do the best they can for the kids, and that's our job,” Heny said. “We need to be concerned with our own needs for our students, not someone else's needs.”

Kindred moved to designate the middle-school site and proceed with demolition. Board Chairman David Northrup, Dave Blevins, Dee Heny, Borcher and Wurzel joined her in voting for the motion.

Following the vote, Hillberry told the board he appreciated what they had gone through on the issue, and said he would not bring the issue up to the City Council.