WHS Field House discussion draws a crowd

By on August 7, 2019

The proposed athletic field house at the Warwick School District campus was the focus of a special Warwick School Board meeting on Aug. 6.
About 60 people crowded into the boardroom to find out more about possible plans to build a $7.1 million field house, and to voice their concerns about the expenditure for the school district and tax payers.

After several comments from those attending the meeting, local resident Brenda Barnes suggested that there be a show of hands opposing, and then in favor of, the field house.

Only about a quarter of those attending raised their hands in support of the Warwick School District building a 9,000-square-foot field house that would upgrade the district’s athletic facilities and give Warwick its first field house with locker rooms, restrooms and concession areas.

The opposition
The majority did not support the field house, and stated so in no uncertain terms.

“I am opposed to the field house,” said Don Krushinski, noting that with the influx of new building in the area, the school district should be doing well and should be able to hold the line on taxes and spending.

Gregory Xakellis agreed, along with several others, that, “We spend too much on sports programs. The money should be used for education.”

“It’s absolutely unnecessary,” said another man, while Michael Riffert called it “excessive spending,” both to applause from the crowd.

Dave Hilbert questioned the wisdom of building a field house when enrollment figures are down and it may be necessary to close schools. Warwick School District Superintendent April Hershey noted that enrollment has dropped by 600 students over the course of 10 years, but added that enrollment is expected to level off in coming years, according to long-range projections.

Hilbert wanted to know how much had already been spent on the 2016 feasibility study to determine renovations and updates to three of the Warwick School District schools, including Warwick High School, Kissel Hill Elementary School, and John Beck Elementary School. The proposed field house is part of that feasibility study, tying into renovations to the Warwick High School athletic department, which includes sports and physical education for all students.

That figure was estimated at $45,000, which drew a loud sigh from many of those attending.

Others wondered where the money would come from. They questioned the need for a field house, when the current block building at one end of the football field is satisfactory for the concession stand and restrooms that exist there.

Pete Carson was critical of the Warwick School Board’s efforts to push the plan through without thorough details and alternative plans for the field house. He was unaware of the rounds of public feasibility presentations that had been held since 2016.

School board member Millard Eppig Jr. explained that the possibility of a field house was first proposed in 2008. At that time, economic conditions led the board to put the plans on the back burner.

Then in 2016, as part of the overall Warwick School District Feasibility Study, the field house was reevaluated as a viable option to provide athletic facilities for sporting events, band competitions, and temporary facilities for the high school while its athletic department was renovated with air conditioning, restrooms, locker rooms, and other improvements.

“Why do you need air conditioning in the gym?” asked Carson, after it was noted that Warwick High School’s athletic department had not been touched for 40 years, and was in need of updates.

The supporters
There were those who supported the plan for a field house.

“I support the board in construction of the field house. It’s not as vital as academics. It may not be the biggest or most extravagant, but eventually we are going to have a field house, and this is the time to do it,” said Mike Brenner.

Rachel Horst said that she had two students in the school district and felt that the athletic department and field house were not just for students who played sports. All students take part in physical education programs.

“Warwick’s sports programs are excellent, and it keeps kids out of trouble,” she added.

Warwick Athletic Director, Ryan Landis, was asked to estimate the number of students involved in sports, which he was going to check into for more exact numbers. Earlier, the number of 20 percent was mentioned, but it was unclear if that included students who participated in more than one sport.
Landis’ strongest argument in favor of the field house was that it would be used by all sports teams, male and female. He said it would compensate for the over emphasis on football, providing facilities for sports such as soccer, field hockey, track, and lacrosse.

Based on Title 9 regulations, female athletes are to have the same opportunities as male athletes.

“It would level the playing field in all sports,” said Landis.

Sheila Hershey, athletic training director, had a more critical reason for having a field house.

“I am concerned about safety,” said Hershey, as she detailed safety and health issues relating to no air conditioning, no easy access to water for training athletes, no climate control to reduce the spread of bacteria and disease, and no availability of AED in case of an emergency when an athlete or visitor requires life-saving measures.

With football players and other athletes beginning training for the fall season, the high heat can cause heat-related illnesses, like heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and severe dehydration. When such conditions occur, it is difficult to get athletes back to the high school gym for treatment.

Sudden thunderstorms are another issue, said Hershey. Currently there is no place for athletes and others to shelter from storms.

Those on the fence
Then there were those who were on the fence.

Bob Fitz suggested that the field house could be very basic, possibly a block building with a simple design and a general-use room. He suggested that the field house could be funded by sponsorships to reduce the impact on taxpayers.

“It could be used for all sports, with the biggest bang for the least amount of money,” he said.

Katie Donmoyer agreed that air conditioning was an improvement that would benefit all students, but wondered if there was a way to “update what we already have.”

An estimated 60 persons crowded into the board room to find out more about possible plans to build a $7.1 million field house, and to voice their concerns about the expenditure for the school district and tax payers.

School Board members (left to right) Scott Shaub, Michael Landis, Superintendent April Hershey, and board member Todd Rucci listen to public concerns about the field house project.

 

This concourse layout is taken from the Field House Review, initially made public on April 2. The full plan can be viewed on the Warwick School District website.

Further questions
Each person was asked to take three minutes to comment, but Carson did not think that was enough time for his questions. He was asked to comment after everyone else had the opportunity to voice opinions or ask questions.

He asked why the school district had not considered a portable facility to be used while the athletic department was updated. He wanted to know who had done the research to design the proposed athletic department at the high school and the field house. He wanted to know if there had been consideration for using industrial fans instead of air conditioning.

Presentation and history
The time for public comments was held after a thorough breakdown by RLPS of the process used for developing Warwick School District’s Feasibility Plan. Erin Hoffman and Craig Kimmel of RLPS presented a timeline of the plan’s evolution and the input of the public throughout the process.

Hoffman explained that the feasibility plan was started in 2016, with the objective of planning for 2022-23, when renovations would be needed at Warwick High School, Kissel Hill Elementary, and John Beck Elementary.

Based on enrollment projections, education goals, and data collection, RLPS conducted focus groups with school board, school administrators, educators, and the community. Several public meeting were held at Warwick Middle School to provide a community forum for opinions about the future of the school district.

In October 2017, the Warwick School District began its public meeting with six options that would guide the district into the next five years. By the time the meeting was over, one of those options seemed likely to be taken off the table. That option, number 6, involved closing two elementary schools and building a new intermediate school on the Warwick district campus.

Option 1 kept the school district much as it is. Option 2 added Pre-K and K classrooms with Bonfield transitioned into an Intermediate School with grades 5 and 6. Option 3 also had varying school levels, with three elementary schools for grades K-4, Bonfield transitioned into an Intermediate School with grades 5 and 6, middle school with grades 7 and 8 and high school with grades 9 through 12. Option 4 called for the closing of John Bonfield school, with John Beck, Kissel Hill and Lititz Elementary renovated for grades K through 5, the middle school for grades 6 through 8, and high school for grades 9 through 12. Option 5 involved closing Kissel Hill, with John Bonfield, Lititz Elementary and John Beck for grades K through 2 and grades 3 through 5, the middle school for grades 6 through 8 and the high school for grades 9 through 12. Option 6 called for both Bonfield and Kissel Hill to be closed and a new Intermediate School at the Warwick School District campus.

All of the options involved renovations at John Beck, Kissel Hill, and Warwick High School, with the high school’s athletic area and gyms renovated and air conditioning improved. The options were all geared toward 21st Century learning, which encompasses flexible classroom spaces, the use of advanced technology, collaborative learning, and creative thinking.

In February 2018, the options had been narrowed down to two. Two of the options, Option 2 and 3, then became the focus for further development, based on public input. The top two options did not require closing any schools, and mainly involved restructuring the existing schools for different grade levels.

In fall 2018, discussion moved toward renovation of the athletic department at the high school. Then in February 2019, consideration was given to resurrecting the idea of a field house. RLPS was asked to look at options and projected costs for a basic field house that would give the Warwick School District its first true field house.

“A list of of pros and cons had many more pros than cons at that time,” said Hoffman.

Among the pros were storage for sports equipment, facilities for spectators, having concession facilities, providing bleachers for home and visiting teams, providing locker rooms for home and visiting teams, providing facilities for male and female athletes, and providing facilities during high school renovations. The cons were the added costs to the project and disruption to the stadium during construction.

In May 2019, the Warwick School Board decided to implement the bidding process for the field house project, which was roughly estimated at $7.1 million, and would include site construction, general construction, mechanical systems, plumbing systems, electrical systems, bleachers, and ticket booths for the new field house.

At the Aug. 6 meeting, school board president Michael Landis reported that there are no plans to raise taxes for the proposed field house. He also said that the bidding process is only the first step in pinning down the cost of building the field house, and it is far from being a “done deal.”

Hershey indicated that public comments were being recorded as part of the continuing discussion.

One man at the meeting asked, “How do you find out what people want or don’t want?”

“It should be put to a public vote,” said Carson.

The full field house project plans can be viewed and downloaded online on the Warwick School District website, under District Info, Superintendent’s Office, Feasibility Information.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com. 

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