One feature of the upcoming Stratford school referendum is a new two-station competition gym. I would like to address a common question among voters, “Why do we need a new gym?”
Over the past decade, Stratford’s enrollment has increased nearly 25 percent (191 students), yet gym space has not increased.
Physical education is required to graduate. Today’s class sizes are too large for one gym. Physical education classes are forced into the Knoll Fitness Center or Fanetti Wrestling Center on alternating days from the gym. Daily physical education activity was not their intended purpose, and the wear and tear shortens the life of the special wrestling flooring and fitness equipment. Physical education teachers require more gym space to teach skills-based units like volleyball, basketball, and floor hockey.
Consider these facts about student athletes from the National Federation of State High School Associations:
—Lower dropout rates.
—Higher GPAs, ACT, and SAT scores.
—Less drug and alcohol use.
—Lower pregnancy rates.
—More likely to attend college and graduate.
—Higher income over their lifetime.
—More likely to vote, volunteer, and be engaged in their communities.
—Healthier and active their entire life.
Sixty-four percent — nearly 200 — of Stratford’s high school students are involved in sports. Our gyms are packed every night and most weekends. Kids start organized sports at younger ages (typically about third grade), and seasons are going longer. Youth basketball spans October to May. Volunteer volleyball started Feb. 28 and runs through the end of May. Baseball and softball started voluntary practices on Jan. 7. Football, baseball, softball, and track all use the gyms when weather is bad.
Middle school and varsity sports book all the gym space immediately after school until about 7 p.m. That leaves our youth programs with practices ending at 8:30 p.m. This is not ideal for 8- to 13-year-old kids. If participation growth continues, sports seasons will go longer, or if another age level is added, every sport will suffer losses of practice time. Our gym space is maxed out.
I have heard the responses to this space crunch, “What do kids need all this practice for? Don’t start so young.” Youth sports are one of the solutions to our nation’s childhood obesity problem. Today’s parents do not allow as much unsupervised play as in the past. The kids count on organized sports for activity and socializing.
In order to keep our kids engaged in sports for the benefits mentioned above, we have to remain competitive with the other area schools. Auburndale, Edgar, Abbotsford, Marathon, and Colby all have more gym space than Stratford despite lower enrollment.
More gym space will have a positive impact on our local economy. We can hold more sporting events and invite more teams. That means more locally purchased products sold in concessions stands; more people stopping at our local shops, gas stations, and restaurants; and more people driving by our car dealerships. Our school facilities will be among the best in the area and attract families to our community.
Finally, consider a new two-station competition gym at $2.4 million is only 10 percent of the total referendum. It will only cost the owner of a $150,000 property about 7.5 cents/day. Most of us will spend more on TV, cellphone, or internet access for one month than on taxes for a gym for one year.
What if we push this off for five or 10 years? The lowest general obligation municipal interest rate in the past 35 years occurred on Feb. 8, 2016. If future rates are just a half percent higher, it would add $1.5 million dollars to the referendum, and certainly construction costs will be higher in the future than now.
Why do we need a new gym? This is not about a fancy new floor for indoor sports or producing state champions and pro athletes. If we are interested in our kids’ physical health, educating the whole child, helping them maximize their potential, and building a stronger community, then I believe it is a need. We need to provide proper physical education classroom space for our growing student population. At less than a dime a day for most, the cost for this investment in our kids and community is well worth it. If we push this off, the costs to build will only go up, and today’s historically low loan interest rates will likely rise. Stratford needs this now, and this is the most affordable time to do it.