A group of adults in Williamsburg is testing a long-held adage: Ask and you shall receive.
With the knowledge that the school board would not green-light a new competition gym for the Williamsburg Community School District’s combined junior-senior high school for another seven or eight years, these residents approached board members to see if they could bring the future a bit closer.
“We were all just kind of tired of hearing the buzz of how bad our facilities were,” said Brad Schaefer. “It was the time to step up and do something about it.”
So he, along with 30 or so like-minded Williamsburg dwellers, formed Raider Pride. On its website, the organization says its mission is to “spearhead the effort of obtaining a new competition gymnasium for students, faculty, and the entire Williamsburg community.”
Come Tuesday, Feb. 5, Schaefer and company will see how successful their campaign has been.
That’s the day when Williamsburg Community School District voters will cast their ballots, deciding for or against a $7.9 million bond issue to build the gym. According to Piper Jaffray, the company serving as the district’s financial adviser for the process, if 60 percent of voters say “yes,” then property taxes are set to rise $1.34 per $1,000 of assessed value. For an owner of a home valued at $125,000, that’s a potential $81.85 annual increase.
The time to build the gym is now, according to members of Raider Pride and Williamsburg Community School District Superintendent Carol Montz.
“I think we are really looking at the economics of looking at the project now,” she said. “We don’t anticipate that the cost of the project will be less in seven to eight years.”
Though there hasn’t been an organized opposition to the proposed bond, Raider Pride members are aware that not everyone supports their cause.
“Anytime you’re forcing a tax increase on someone, some people are always going to vote no,” Schaefer said. “Those people that have a lot of property are going to be taxed more than people who own a small house or rent. They have a little more piece of the pie, but that’s just the system.”
Proponents of the plan, including activities director Curt Ritchie, have said that it’s time to replace the smallest and oldest gymnasium in the WAMAC conference.
The current facility prevents the district from hosting conference tournaments in sports, such as volleyball and wrestling. That results in a loss of revenue for the district and for volunteer groups, which run the gym concession stand to fundraise.
“We can only have one net going and still have the bleachers,” Ritchie said of home volleyball games. “If we have two nets going, we can only have one row of bleachers on each side.”
The current gym’s bleachers do not have aisles and thus are not wheelchair-accessible. If the district opted to get new bleachers — with aisles and railings — in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, “we’d lose even more seating, which we can’t afford to do,” Ritchie added.
The biggest headaches come throughout the day. The gym serves students in six grades throughout the day and ends up effectively shortchanging them all, forcing classes to squeeze physical education activities into one-third of an already-tight facility.
“We wouldn’t allow three different classes of grades seven through 12 to be in the same classroom for a class, and yet we do it every day for gym,” Ritchie said. “With that many students in the gym, it’s hard to have a good gym or (physical education) class going. Your activity period gets cut down because of the lack of space for activities to take place.”
So the solution to these problems lies in a proposed 31,550-square-foot facility, which would almost double the current gym’s seating capacity from about 950 to 1,732, with room on the concourse for at least 200 additional standing spectators.
If that gym is built, the current space would be used for practice and solely for junior-high students during the school day.
Getting their wish
One of the architects from Neumann Monson, the firm handling the project for the district, at one point touted the project as a smaller Carver Hawkeye Arena. The soil around the site of the proposed Williamsburg gym can’t support an aboveground building, Montz said, so the plans are to build the facility into the ground, like Carver.
Proponents of the plan, including Raider Pride, backed off the Carver comparison. In addition, community feedback led the buildings and grounds committee to scale the original plans back from an almost $8.9 million project to the current $7.9 million proposal, mostly through space reductions.
If at least 60 percent of voters are on pro-Raider Pride come election day, Montz estimated that the district would solicit bids one year from now and break ground “as soon as possible” in spring 2014, with construction completed in time for the start of the 2015-16 school year.
“We want to make the project fit all of our needs,” Schaefer said. “We don’t want it to be built for 10 years. We want it to be built for the next 50 years.”