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SWR school community weighs alternatives to renovating fitness center

Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Gerard Poole proposed a plan to board members Monday that would repurpose district spaces to create a new fitness center at the high school.

Mr. Poole asked the board to consider converting the current fitness center, which is closed, into a wrestling center. The plan would also convert the auxiliary gym into the new fitness center, which would be attached to the school building for safety purposes.

In June 2018, the fitness center closed after a structural evaluation was completed and revealed it was noncompliant with its use as a fitness center, or a “large group instructional space,” Mr. Poole said.

According to an engineering report from BBS Engineering, in order to comply with state building code, the steel beams on the ceiling of the first floor would require reinforcing.

To remediate the fitness center for use, Mr. Poole said, toilets and fire alarms would also need to be upgraded to meet Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. Windows, lighting and an internal air system would need to be replaced for safety purposes, he said.

As a result of the report, the district constructed a temporary fitness center for students in room A102 of the high school located near the cafeteria. To “better meet the needs of students,” the district will expand the temporary fitness center to include room A101 in September, Mr. Poole said.

The engineering report results also launched a conversation and analysis about the next steps for the center, he said, and prompted the district to administer student surveys regarding the fitness center.

Students were asked to circle equipment that they would like to see in a potential fitness center. Roughly 71% of students said they wanted to see treadmills, 66% of students were interested in seeing spin and stationary bikes and 62% of students wanted to see elliptical machines.

“A variety and blend of equipment is really what they’re looking for,” Mr. Poole said.

About 75% of students surveyed said that if the district were to have a permanent fitness center within the building, they would use the facility, Mr. Poole said. Coaches and physical education teachers were also surveyed, who expressed an interest in both cardio and strength-training equipment, he said.

Some community members expressed skepticism with Mr. Poole’s option.

Dan McGuire of Shoreham, who has three children in the district, said his biggest concern with the plan is what he characterized as the district’s irresponsibility with finances. When residents approved the capital bond renewal project in January 2015, the district did not stay true to their word of where that would be prioritized, he said.

“During that time, it was told to us the classrooms were going to be used for a certain purpose. And apparently, because, maybe, of the lack of planning … the use of those classrooms have changed,” he said. “It’s a big responsibility to make sure that what we, the taxpayers, are told exactly what’s happening in this district.”

He mentioned that room A101 is intended to be used as a science classroom and it’s “misleading” to taxpayers to use it as a fitness room.

Shoreham resident Robert Badalian said he used the old fitness center in the hours when it was open to the public. He suggested the board open the center to the public while they receive unappropriated, emergency funds from the state to save money.

But assistant superintendent for finance and operations Glen Acuri said that since the old fitness center is not primarily used as a “student instructional space,” the district cannot declare the steel beam renovations as an emergency project under state code.

Other community members are eager to convert the auxiliary gym to the new fitness center and convert the current fitness center to a wrestling center.

Jim Pace, who said he’s lived in the community for over 25 years and has a son on the wrestling team, said the team works “harder than any other athletic program” in the district.

“To give them their own facility, I think it’s a great thing for the kids,” he said. “I think it’s great for the program, for the coach, and it would cost the district less money than to renovate a building.”

Coach Joseph Condon said a new wrestling center would be great for his team. He told the board that high school alumni emailed him and supported the idea of the conversion.

“The kids, they don’t ask for much,” he said. “It would be a win for the kids in the district.”

In the best-case scenario, Mr. Poole said, the district will have extra funds related to the 2015 bond work and they will be used for the fitness center if they receive state approval on the amendment for the steel support system. Then, he said, the district could go out to bid.

Newly-elected board president Michael Lewis said the district will have a better grasp on the project at the Aug. 20 board meeting and a potential plan for resident access to the center.

At that meeting, the board will provide an update on bond funds which will provide a clearer picture of what funds may be available for remaining projects, like the fitness center, Mr. Poole said.

Caption: Mr. Poole at this week’s meeting. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

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