In debate over gymnasiums, everyone has students in mind

Published 8:13 pm Monday, September 25, 2017

Last month, during the Troup County Board of Education meeting, board members decided to table a vote on new school gymnasiums at Troup High School and LaGrange High School. The gyms were a hot topic during the passing of E-SPLOST V, as the money many on the board campaigned for was allotted for these two athletic facilities. The cost of the gymnasiums was originally expected to be around $18 million total, but at the last board meeting that cost had soared to about $25 million. Superintendent Cole Pugh blamed the cost difference on a “low estimate” from an architect early in the process. Given the higher price, the board did the same thing any of us do when trying to balance our budgets at home — replace the name brand cereal with a cheaper brand, eat out less and genreally, know where every dollar goes down to the last cent.

We’ve all been there. The board, knowing it needs to be good stewards of taxpayer money, has cut the costs of the gymnasiums everywhere it can. Assistant Superintendent John Radcliffe has talked through the areas where the original plans have been cut.

The roof has been simplified, the original construction of the front lobby has changed and several of the rooms coaches and administrators have asked for have been cut or combined. Board members asked during the last meeting if less seating could be included too. That may be possible, but if the gyms lower their seating capacity, they might not be able to host regional tournaments during the playoffs. Radcliffe said the easiest — and probably the only way — to keep the gyms at or under budget is to remove the indoor practice facilities from the original plans. That’s understandably caused an uproar, since it was one of the most exciting parts of the gym announcement and because it was originally promised in the E-SPLOST V vote.

To their credit, board members have taken part in town hall meetings at West Point and LaGrange that oftentimes feel fairly one-sided. It’s important — and in their job title — to get the opinion of those they serve, and they should be credited with standing in front of a crowd of people and trying to give them the latest information.

The question now is what to do next. Several board members have rightfully questioned if gymnasiums are the right way to spend money they expected to go elsewhere — like on Read 180 — but voters have a point, too. After all, they were promised one thing, and they want to see it happen.

To be honest, we’re not sure what the right answer is, but in most of these cases each side has to give a little. From our perspective, two brand new gymnasiums — with or without indoor practice facilities — sounds like a great deal for the students at Troup and LaGrange High School. And if the board chooses not to include the practice facilities, that’s more money that can be spent elsewhere. That’s not such a bad thing.

At the same time, promises are promises. Even if the information changes, the promise to follow through was still made.

As long as the gymnasiums are built — and by all accounts, it sounds like that’s not up in the air — this appears to be one of those cases where neither side is really in the wrong, and both have the best interest of our students in mind.