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Archive for Friday, May 5, 2006

Gym options explored at meeting

May 5, 2006

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Kathy Padia didn't take the news very well last week when word surfaced numerous Lawrence High athletic teams might lose access to their home gymnasium during the 2006-07 school year due to a looming construction project.

Her biggest source of disdain centered on her belief that school administrators failed to question architects, consultants and other decision-makers, taking at face value the latter group's claims that building a tower outside the gym's west entrance would, in a worst-case scenario, limit emergency access to and from the facility and thereby rule out the big crowds that gather on game nights.

On Thursday, Padia finally got a little face time of her own and came away with a renewed sense of optimism regarding the immediate future of "The Jungle."

"I feel better in that I think there's an awareness of the concerns and making sure alternatives have been examined," said Padia following a 45-minute meeting at the Lawrence school district's facilities and operations building.

"And that's the goal, just to examine all our options. And if it ultimately ends up they cannot use the gym, that's OK."

Padia was one of three parents who took part in the 11-person roundtable discussion. Also on hand were LHS principal Steve Nilhas and boys basketball coach Chris Davis; Tom Bracciano, the school district's facility and operations director; school board members Sue Morgan and Linda Robinson; Lawrence Fire Marshal Rich Barr; Tracy Green from B.A. Green Construction; and Lee Fuller from the DLR Group, a consulting firm.

The early discussion focused directly on Padia's point of contention - that no one stood up for LHS athletes and their supporters when plans were being finalized for the project, which is now slated to begin at the end of this month and continue into next March.

"I want to be real clear about this - I don't know when we finally got news that we might lose access to the gym. ... It's been awhile," Nilhas said. "I was remiss in not looking hard at, what are some alternatives?

"I wish I would have forced the conversation we're having now, because it sounds like we have some options."

The most promising of which involves LHS having to do nothing beyond some basic math.

At Barr's request, the school's first order of business is determining the gym's maximum occupancy. There's the possibility that, even without access to the current west doors, the facility may already contain enough exits to satisfy the city's fire code requirements.

And, if the number of exits falls short, LHS may choose to limit crowd size or close off portions of the facility to meet the regulations and guarantee games in its home gym.

"If we can establish it (the allowable occupancy), then it becomes an enforcement issue so that we don't try to jam an extra 100 (people) in," Barr said.

"That's better than playing at Haskell," chimed in Davis, referring to one of the rumored temporary homes should LHS ultimately be displaced.

Another possibility involves the availability of some type of exit route through the construction area that is to be used only in the case of an emergency.

"That's not something I perceive as out of line," Barr added. "They don't have to be clean. It doesn't have to look pretty. So that's an option."

However the process plays out over the coming weeks, Padia left Thursday's meeting of the minds satisfied that athletes and their parents now appear to have a voice in what transpires.

"Mr. Nilhas, he's a great source to communicate with," Padia said. "I'm confident that it's in his hands and in the school board members' hands."

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