Since the cost estimates for the Imagine OPRF Team’s proposed master facilities plan were released, some people have questioned why such a significant portion of the expected cost is coming from the construction of physical education spaces, many of which are used by athletics and other extracurricular programs. Here’s why:
The simple fact is that the portion of the current campus that houses most of the physical education activity is most in need of significant repair. Gyms with warped floors from leaking ceilings and locker rooms regularly flooded with sewage cannot be considered safe. Pool facilities with ventilation so poor it becomes difficult to breathe after 10 minutes are a health issue. Whole areas of the building that are either completely inaccessible or extremely difficult to navigate for anyone with a disability are not equitable. And facilities that are overcrowded and overscheduled on a daily basis due to a lack of enough flexible, multi-functional space puts everyone at higher risk for accidents and injuries.
The Imagine Team has not prioritized physical education, athletics, or extracurricular activities over academic or other needs in our overall assessment. What we have prioritized is the health, safety, accessibility, and equity for all students in spaces that are used by virtually every student every day. The reality is that the infrastructure of these physical education spaces costs more than the infrastructure associated with modernizing classrooms, creating collaboration areas, or renovating public spaces to make them more welcoming for all students.
Some people have said that the cost of renovating the physical education facilities isn’t worth the benefit because the activities housed in those spaces are less important. They would say that the primary mission of our school is to provide a quality academic education to its students, and that physical and extracurricular activities are a nice but non-essential benefit.
For those who believe that to be true, consider this: Numerous studies have shown that students (including our own OPRF students) who participate in athletics and extracurricular activities reach higher levels of academic achievement and have fewer disciplinary issues. Physical education is education — our students are learning both valuable content and necessary life skills, such as healthy habits, cooperative learning, problem-solving, social and emotional skills, and physical self-defense through participation in PE classes, athletics, and extracurricular activities.
Finally, let’s not underestimate the value of having a high school that continues to offer a comprehensive set of experiences for its students — one of the biggest selling points for this community is the reputation of the school and the overall education it provides. Rich, varied, and holistic educational opportunities are what draw families to our community. A decision not to invest in maintaining and improving that offering would have repercussions extending far beyond the impact it would have on our students.
The Imagine OPRF Team wholeheartedly believes that our proposal meets the basic needs of all students across all areas — academic, physical, and emotional. We have worked hard to develop a plan that addresses those needs we have identified as critical to the future success of the students, the teachers/staff, and our community as a whole.
Renee Bell is an Imagine OPRF team member.