Gymnasts frustrated with lack of action

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Benson gymnasts, coaches, members of the visiting team, and spectators crowd along the cramped space of the Benson Armory for a gymnastics meet.

School board sympathizes, but says lack of funds and $26.3 building project a priority

By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

A large contingent of Benson-Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg parents, coaches and gymnasts showed up at last Tuesday night’s District 777 Board of Education meeting seeking answers on when they will get a new facility.

“We were here months ago with our concerns after the option of using the civic center closed down,” Varsity Coach Kathy Ahrdnt said. “You promised that you would continue to work on it. We are here tonight to continue the discussion, to see where you are and to see if there is a timeline so we can move forward.”

The gymnastics program needs a safe place for its gymnasts to practice and compete, Ahrdnt said. The Benson Armory is too cramped to safely compete and practice, the school board has been told for several years.

Also, the program needs a cushioned pit where gymnasts can land when practicing routines. The pit would reduce injuries and limit the continual impacts gymnasts now suffer when they fall on mats.

“At what point is safety factored into needs versus wants, urgency versus non-urgency? How are you factoring the safety piece into the financial piece?” she asked.

 “What has happened before at this board level is that when you guys come with a safety issue it becomes a top priority,” School Board Member Bill McGeary replied. “I haven’t seen that from this board. I haven’t seen an urgency to make things safe. We buy the best football helmets on the market, but we don’t seem to worry about the wall at the armory.”

Board Chair Brian Samuelson told McGeary that he would have to temper those comments. “We have to do it in a financially prudent manner. If we don’t have the money, we can’t do it, and we jeopardize the program,” he said....

Gymnastics building financing options

Gymnastics supporters asked the school to consider several options for getting them out of the armory and into a safer space....

Gymnastics supporters did ask the board what other sports bring to the table to have adequate practice and competition facilities? Their sport is the only one that does not have school facilities, they pointed out....

Civic center effort failed

The discussion about a new gymnastics space has been going on for over two years with the board thinking it had a solution by placing the program in the north end of the city’s civic center. However, state education facility codes that led to skyrocketing costs and the location of the facility in flood plain ended those plans in December.

At that point, it is estimated that the school board had spent nearly $300,000 in pursuing the civic center option.

McGeary, who was part of the school board that made the decision to pursue the civic center option, acknowledged it was a mistake. “I’ll take the blame; it is our fault,” he said.

At the time, the school board members were McGeary, Chair Chad Payne, Tammy Gunlogson, Gary Williams, Paul Carruth, Mary K.W. Langan and Jodi DeJong-Hughes.
In the November school board election, Samuelson, Peterson, and Jim Berens replaced Gunlogson, Payne and DeJong-Hughes on the board.

If the board had included the gymnastics building in the August levy, adding $1.5 million to its total, it would still have likely passed. However, it wasn’t known until after that levy that the civic center option wasn’t going to work....

Current project is the priority

It is a priority for the school board to get HVAC work included in the senior high building project while getting as much as possible for the $26.3 million levy approved last August, Samuelson said. That is the focus of the school board, administration and school faculty, he said.

Funds from the $26.3 building bond levy will:
- Add a new wing to the west end of the Northside Elementary School dedicated to infant and toddler daycare, pre-school children, and the Discovery Kids program.
- Build a new cafeteria at the Northside.
- Build a new performing arts center to replace the 1928 Junior High School Auditorium.
- Add new classrooms at the senior high dedicated to 21st Century learning approaches and construct a new band room.
- Convert the indoor swimming pool space to a gym.
- Demolition of the 1928 auditorium and 1950 Junior High building.
- Add new security features to the Northside Elementary and Benson High School.

At the same time, the school board is trying to figure out how it can get several million dollars worth of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) work done in the senior high. Funding for the work was not included in the bond levy last fall.

Samuelson says the school board appreciates the passion and commitment of the gymnastics program supporters. Solving the gymnastics program space issue is very important to the board of education, he said....

Lease levy

A lease levy purchase financing option allows a school district to borrow money for construction of a new facility, lease it, and pay it off with tax revenues. The school district is allowed to levy up to $212 per pupil per year to pay for a lease levy project, Laumeyer said.

For 2019, the school district has lease levy authority of $185,000 based on average pupil enrollment.

That levy authority goes up and down with student enrollment. If it levied for a project with $185,000 in payments and enrollment fell reducing the formula revenue to $160,000, the general fund would have to make up the debt service difference, Laumeyer told school board members.

Board Member Jim Berens expressed reluctance to go with the lease-levy option for constructing new gymnastics space.

There could be problems with paying off the lease-levy if student enrollment dropped below what it would take to make the payments on the building, he said. Then the funds would have to come out of the school’s general operation budget, taking money away from education, he said.

A lease-levy option will add taxes to the property owners in the district. The board is not going to want to vote on that yet. It also has to be respectful of the tax burden already added to the taxpayers with last year’s levy, Peterson added....


For more on this story, and to keep up on all the latest news, subscribe to the Swift County Monitor-News print edition or our PDF internet edition. Call 320-843-4111 and you can get all the local news and sports delivered to you!

Pictured: Benson gymnasts, coaches, members of the visiting team, and spectators crowd along the cramped space of the Benson Armory for a gymnastics meet. Gymnastics coaches told members of the District 777 Board of Education Feb. 19 that the armory is unsafe for practice and competition, and that they need the board to find a solution for a new space. The board replied that it was working on a solution, but a lack of funding and the priorities of the $26.3 building bond levy mean they can’t act immediately.

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