New Mitchell High School athletic facilities could be delayed, but officials say they're coming soon
New gymnasiums, practice spaces remain a top priority
MITCHELL — A new Mitchell High School building is on the way, but it's likely not all of it will be built at once, according to school officials.
Most likely to be left out of that first phase is at least part of the building’s new athletic facilities. Due to inflation in construction costs that have ballooned the price tag for the plans, which would also include new classrooms and administration offices, those additions will likely need to wait for a while.
It’s an unfortunate reality that can come with projects of this scope, said Joe Graves, superintendent for the Mitchell School District.
“It’s very disappointing from my standpoint, because we planned for this for 10 years and we had the money,” Graves told the Mitchell Republic in an interview. “If the construction inflation, which just skyrocketed, had not occurred, we would have been able to do this project with the money we had available. But we’re very close.”
The district spent years putting away money to construct a building that would replace the current high school building on Capital Street, which was built in 1962 and is in need of upgrades, according to school officials. The district finally moved forward this year by securing potential designs that would match the roughly $42 million budget attached to the work and reviewed them at a meeting of the Mitchell Board of Education meeting in June.
Unfortunately, recent construction cost increases put the preferred design nearly $20 million over budget, forcing the board and the school design committee to re-evaluate its needs and request alternative build options that would allow the project to be completed in phases while still forgoing the need to raise additional money through a bond issue.
The board got its first look at those alternate plans at its Aug. 8 meeting, and the new plan will get the project back on budget, but likely at the temporary delay for the proposed athletic facilities portion of the project. That includes features such as a main and auxiliary gym, weightlifting room, an area for wrestling and competitive dance, an area for gymnastics and cheer as well as expanded storage and classroom and conference rooms.
Addressing a need
Along with new classrooms, the athletics portion of the project is a crucial part of the new high school as well, said Cory Aadland, activities director for the Mitchell School District.
“With what we have currently compared to what we have in the new designs, our current facilities are significantly smaller than what the new gyms will be,” Aadland said.
The current high school building has two gyms used for practice and competition - a main gymnasium with a capacity of about 600 and a lower-level gymnasium. While the downtown Corn Palace is the home to the boys and girls basketball teams and cheer and dance, the two gyms at the high school provide practice space as well as competition space for a number of programs, including volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics.
The district makes due with the space those gyms provide, but today’s high school athletics have come a long way since they were built in the early 1960s. In particular, there were no girls’ athletics at all to speak of at the time.
“The high school was built in 1962, and the number of sports that we had at that time is not what we have now. We have a significantly larger number of sports. When the school was designed, it wasn’t designed to have volleyball, competitive cheer and dance. And we’ve added all of those since then,” Aadland said.
The gyms are in use every day with physical education classes to after-school practices and open gym hours in the evening.
The high demand has forced officials to get creative with practice and activities scheduling, with teams occasionally using other district gymnasiums to accommodate everyone. The new additions will allow for all sports with the exception of tennis and golf to be hosted at the high school complex, something that has been a goal for some time.
“With those exceptions, we’d have every single one of our athletic programs right here on campus, which is the ultimate goal — that everything is right here and we don’t have to go out to different parts of town to host,” Aadland said.
The new main gym would hold about 2,400 spectators, making it possible to expand some of the invitational events the school currently host in wrestling and gymnastics. It also opens up the opportunity to host additional events in those and other sports, as well as the chance to host some large-scale youth tournaments.
The new high school building as designed will be constructed across the street to the west of the current building and attached to the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy, another district facility. It would also relocated some practice fields across the street to the east from the football field, a portion of construction that would likely be completed toward the end of the project.
It’s possible that falling construction costs could allow for the inclusion for at least part of the athletic facilities to be built in the first phase. What could be done then is something that will become more clear as architects and contractors determine final costs before beginning construction work, likely in the spring of 2023.
Facilities will be added as funding allows, likely beginning with the main gymnasium and followed by the one-story section north of the main and auxiliary gymnasiums — which would house locker rooms, weightlifting, wrestling and competitive dance and other support rooms — the auxiliary gym and the gymnastics and cheer gymnasium.
Until those facilities are complete, something Graves said the district will work at making a reality in five years or less, the current high school facilities would remain in use instead of tearing down the structure as planned.
Once no longer needed, the current building is expected to be torn down.
Aadland said he and coaches would continue to juggle practices and other activities by way of creative scheduling using other district facilities as needed until they can move into their new environment.
The district will work to get the entire project completed as quickly as possible, Graves said.
“I think we should have it faster than (five years). It’s my intention to make this a top priority. We never intended to leave any of the programs behind for even a brief period of time, so it will be a top priority,” Graves said.
Once the old building is demolished, further improvements such as three practice fields that can be used for football and soccer can be added to the approximate site of the current high school.
As the schedule takes shape, relocation of the district long jump, triple jump, shot put and discuss competition areas will also be needed, as part of the new classroom wing of the high school will take up that space.
“Figuring out what that looks like is a bit of a challenge now with not knowing how much of this project gets done and the timeline of when everything gets done. We’ll try to work on some options and figure out where (they will be moved), but we’re trying to do that as cost-effectively as we can so we’re not putting a bunch of money into something that we know we’re going to have to move (again later),” Aadland said.
Aadland said coaches and students appear to share the same anticipation for the future and frustration at the delay, but everyone seems to be excited by the prospects. The end goal should make the growing pains worth it, Aadland said.
“(For the timeline) to go sideways on us a little bit and to get to the reality we’re at is certainly disappointing, but the focus has to be the long-term goal of where we’re going,” Aadland said. “When we get the facility built we’re going to have a really nice facility that will serve our program well and our students well.”
For the future
Like the academics that take place in the classroom, athletics have evolved greatly since the 1960s, and the new proposed facilities should help improve the educational experience for students, as well as spectators, coaches and school officials. With athletics such a large part of students' lives in 2022, having ample, comfortable spaces to accommodate a full range of boys and girls sports, as well as having up-to-date facilities, can make the difference in encouraging students to try their hand at sports.
Graves said the more that students engage in school programs outside their academic studies, the more likely they are to complete high school. The new athletic facilities at the new high school should help maintain and even improve that engagement. That is the goal of every school administrator, he said.
The athletics portion of the project is about more than just sports, he said. It’s about giving every opportunity to district students to participate and succeed.
“If you get a student actively engaged in even one high school activity, the research demonstrates that they will graduate, and that’s what we’re after,” Graves said. “So finding these engagements and finding ways to expand the sports programs and activities is important for those reasons. And that means we have to expand the facilities and venues.”