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Lafayette High School parents advocating for an auxiliary gym to be included in the fiscal 2017 Capital Improvement Program dominated a public hearing on the proposed James City County operating budget Tuesday night.
The item, which is estimated to cost $2.45 million, was included in the WJCC School Division’s fiscal 2017 CIP and was recommended as one of the highest priority CIP items by the JCC Planning Commission.
In his proposed $193,475,000 budget, however, County Administrator Bryan Hill did not include the auxiliary gym. During a press conference April 1, Hill noted the county needs to “put a plan in place to afford these new structures” and intends to complete the strategic planning process before allocating funding to build new facilities in fiscal 2017.
This did not stop 10 parents and one student from stating their case to the JCC Board of Supervisors as to why the auxiliary gym should be funded in fiscal 2017.
Kathy Woollum, president of the LHS Athletics Boosters, called on the Board to “remedy the inequity at Lafayette” that results from Jamestown and Warhill high schools having auxiliary or double gymnasiums, and “alleviate the safety concerns for Lafayette students” by funding construction of an auxiliary gym.
“The fact that we deal, on a regular basis, with an array of challenges does not mean we think they’re acceptable,” Woollum said. “Creating a new matrix of off-campus travel is not a solution for the near term or long term. Getting a gym started now is.”
Parents presented the practice schedules of teams that use four different off-campus practice spaces, including the soon-to-be-demolished James Blair Middle School, and explained the history of requests for an auxiliary gym, which go back more than 10 years.
Parent R.W. “Hap” Holm said he believes there is agreement the gym is needed but said it’s “not worth much” if the project is not funded.
“Help us dispel the perception [that] there is an increasingly noticeable imbalance among our high schools,” Holm said. “On those courts, on our stages, is our future.”
Danielle Morgan, a senior and one of the captains of the Lafayette cheerleading squad, came to speak on behalf of her fellow cheerleaders and coach. The team currently practices in the wrestling room, a space Morgan said had no obvious flaws but one she felt was inappropriate for rehearsing routines.
“We’re not saying our needs are above anything else on the list of priorities,” Morgan said. “It just seems fit for these state-ranking sports to have a proper area to become even better and, if not for that, for the safety of our athletes.”
Some residents spoke against “shoehorning” the auxiliary gym into the budget. Resident Judy Fuss called such a move “disruptive and … damaging to the whole.”
“With challenging demands now being made of county revenue, people want to see spending directed toward the greatest needs,” Fuss said.
Resident Paul Van Riper, who spoke about the budget during the Tuesday’s public comment period, argued the Board of Supervisors is more “professional and collegial” than it was a couple years ago and urged the Board not to compromise this positive trajectory by bumping up construction of the gymnasium.
“Under no circumstances should the Board of Supervisors disrupt its competent approach to developing its own strategic planning process to meet the impromptu request for the Lafayette auxiliary gym,” Van Riper said.
Board Chairman Michael Hipple (Powhatan) thanked parents and students for attending the meeting and, as a Lafayette graduate himself, said he understands their concerns. He said the county is working “step by step” to make funding for the gymnasium possible.
“We’re going to do everything we can in our process,” Hipple said. “If it doesn’t make it this year, we’re not stopping. This is not going to stop.”
Supervisor Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) called the need to build an auxiliary gym a “sooner rather than later issue,” while Supervisor Sue Sadler (Stonehouse) said she felt the county “owed it to everyone” to be a “little bit flexible with what it’s doing.” Both comments solicited applause from the audience.
The Board will meet May 2 and May 4 for budget work sessions and are set to vote on the budget May 10.