May 7 bond would allow Benzie Central gym to meet 21st century needs

School administrators and coaches have called the locker rooms at Benzie Central High School embarrassing. (Robert Myers/Pioneer News Network)

By Robert Myers
Pioneer News Network 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a multipart series will focus on a 30-year bond proposal that would increase tax levies by 0.5 mills. If approved on May 7, the bond would raise the tax levy to 3.0 mills from the current tax levy of 2.5 mills. In turn, this 0.5 mill increase ($25 per year for a home valued at $100,000) would provide Benzie County Central Schools $47.85 million to upgrade its educational facilities.

BENZONIA – For those just stopping by to watch a basketball or volleyball game, Benzie Central’s high school gymnasium and its facilities might seem perfectly adequate, however, coaches and administrators tell a different story.

As part of its bond proposal for the May 7 election, the district has proposed a complete renovation to the high school gym and locker room facilities.

The proposed plan would construct new locker room facilities as part of an addition to the west side of the existing gym. Above those locker rooms, the school would construct a new wrestling room, weight room, a community fitness center and a walking track.

Benzie Central would then convert the space occupied by the old locker rooms, weight room and wrestling room into a full-size practice court. The main basketball court would be rotated 90 degrees with new bleachers and an improved seating capacity.

The school would also build an athletic entrance on the west side with a concession area and bathrooms for spectators.

Using the bond funds, Benzie Central could build whole new locker rooms and modern showers, which would also provide more privacy for students and athletes. (Robert Myers/Pioneer News Network)

According to district superintendent Matt Olson, the age and condition of parts of the current facilities necessitate these changes.

“This is truly one of the most embarrassing things,” said Olson, as he surveyed the boys locker room, which has seen only minimal changes in its six decades of existence.

Olson pointed out old rust-covered lockers, flaking paint, deteriorating floors, antiquated light fixtures and a severely outdated shower system that offers no privacy, just to name a few of the things that embarrass him when Benzie Central students use the facilities or coaches and athletes from other schools come visit the Huskies for a road game.

While Benzie Central varsity girls basketball coach Sarah Ross thanked the district’s maintenance staff for their efforts to maintain the facilities, she said it is time to update them to meet today’s needs.

“We have this opportunity to make our facilities safe, new and something to be proud of,” she said. “When Benzie schools were designed and constructed, there were only two girls sports teams. Title IX was not even a discussion and women were just starting to be accepted into the athletic arena. The lockers, locker rooms, showers and offices reflect this in their size and capacity.”

“Fast forward 60 years, and we have 10 girls sports. Over 70 percent of our female students participate in sports, with 85 percent of those being multi-sport athletes. Eighty percent of our male students also participate in sports. These improvements will help honor all athletes’ time and effort commitments, improve our safety standards and bring our girls facilities into the 21st century.”

Track and cross country coach Asa Kelly noted how Benzie Central’s current facilities fail to measure up to those of many rival schools.

“For anyone who has traveled around to other schools in the area or state in the last 10-15 years, it is very evident how fortunate other students around the state are, and how badly in need our facilities are of an upgrade,” Kelly said.

“Most people in the area who have kids graduating now used the same locker rooms (when they were in school) and some of their parents did as well. It’s past time for this to happen, and I strongly suggest anyone in the community who is in doubt of the need to take a moment to walk through these areas.”

In addition to the quality of the facilities, Kelly also cited the limited space as a challenge facing the school’s sports teams.

During the winter months, it is common to see basketball teams practicing well into the evening, sometimes as late as 8 or 9 p.m.

(The school typically fields freshmen, JV and varsity basketball teams for both boys and girls).

Spring also sees teams struggling to find practice space before the snow melts and they can get outside.

Baseball and softball teams must practice one at a time in the gym, while the track team of 80 strong must pack itself into a hallway for team meetings and tries to run drills in the limited space of hallways and the cafeteria.

The additional court space the gym renovations would provide would allow multiple teams to practice at the same time. A third team could even practice in the gym at the proposed new elementary building on the high school campus.

Meanwhile, track and cross country athletes, as well as community members, would have access to the new walking track and fitness center.

“This would be a huge blessing for the students of our district,” Kelly said. “A new community fitness center and walking track would allow everyone in our community the opportunity to use a facility year-round, which is also much-needed.”

For more information about the gymnasium upgrades, the district will hold question and answer sessions at 6 p.m. on April 10 at Betsie Valley Elementary, at 6 p.m. on April 17 at Lake Ann Elementary and at 7 p.m. on April 18 at the high school.

 

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