MARSHALL: Syracuse voters: Time to vote Yes

5/1/2014

I was born and raised in Syracuse, Hamilton County's county seat an hour's drive west of Garden City.

I was born and raised in Syracuse, Hamilton County's county seat an hour's drive west of Garden City.

There's much to be said about growing up in a small, rural town such as Syracuse or any number of southwest Kansas communities with similar size and makeup.

In the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, we really thought we had it good.

If you played football at Bulldog Stadium, it had one of the larger set of stadium bleachers made of concrete, and had two locker rooms and a concession stand conveniently located under the bleachers. That facility opened in the fall of 1949, and it still is home to Bulldog football.

If you played basketball, you were playing in a gymnasium that compared favorably at the time with most in the area, and with its seats so close in proximity to the court, it provided for a noisy, home court advantage for the Bulldogs. The crackerbox gym seats approximately 900 and does not have a regulation-size court by today's standards. That gym was dedicated in February of 1941 and still has the same floor, 73 years later, as it did when it opened. There's no more sanding the floor down and putting a new finish to the surface. Time has run out.

If you were on the track and field team, you ran on a "red dog" cinder track that was as good as any facility in the western portion of the state. That's what made the Syracuse Relays, usually run in April, one of the premier track events in this part of Kansas, as well as attracting teams from eastern Colorado and the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles.

Time ran out on the Syracuse track program, and thus it has suffered through the years with lower numbers of athletes and fewer quality performances after being among the top Class 2A programs in Kansas during the 1970s and early 1980s.

But today, those facilities are aging, and in the case of the track, downright embarrassing. Cracks in asphalt runways prevent practicing there. No vaulting, not much in the way of safety high jumps, no hurdle practices and no quality workouts with accurate distances for relay teams.

The cinder track is no longer used for meets, due to the fact it's measured in yards, not meters, which is required by the Kansas State High School Activities Association and the National Federation of State High Schools. Virtually every other Class 1-2-3A school in southwest Kansas has an artificially surfaced track, measured in meters, and those schools traditionally host all the area track meets.

The football field and the aging Walter LaRosh Stadium bleachers are much the same. They have old locker rooms, with old plumbing and old electrical works. The area where the Bulldogs football team dresses and prepares for Friday night games is damp and cold.

The current varsity basketball gym, the Barney Akers Gymnasium, was constructed in 1975 and only once in its nearly 40 years of existence, has any remodeling taken place, and that was to simply bring in new bleachers in 2007.

The vocational-agriculture building, which opened in the fall of 1963 and provided shop classes to SHS students for the past 51 years, also is out-of-date and perhaps is not in complete code compliance and needs upgrading.

Now, before the citizens of Hamilton County and USD 494, is a $6.425 million bond proposal, to be voted upon Tuesday. If it passes, construction on the vo-ag building would begin in August. Construction on the football field, track and field facilities and the basketball gym would begin late fall after the football season is completed.

The benefit in the proposal is that in constructing all three components — vo-ag, basketball gym, football/track facility — at the same time, the district will save an estimated $500,000 as opposed to if the three were built in phases. Concrete, plumbing, electrical costs all go into the savings estimates.

Another consideration is what the state of Kansas has done to funding for local school districts with the recent education bill signed by Gov. Sam Brownback, which was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The new bill, effective July 1, eliminates what is called "new facilities weighting." Previously, school districts were eligible for funding from the state when the new facilities opened as long as the local option budget was at least 25 percent of the amount of state financial aid. That program is eliminated as of July 1. In the case of USD 494, that amount is estimated at $200,00 to $250,000 per year for the first two years of the new facilities being operational.

Garden City's USD 457 received $1,920,000 in each of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years under the new facilities weighting program.

Hamilton County residents approved funds to construct the existing junior/senior high school building, which opened in 1999, and it has provided a wide range of educational opportunities for the students of Syracuse. Those same students should have the same opportunities to excel in athletics and activities as they do in the classroom, and these new facilities will give them that chance.

In a time when small-town America is struggling, this is an opportunity for one community to step up, show that it cares about its students, the educational process, and the activities that provide a hub for the social fabric of a small town.

It's a time when the Syracuse citizenry can do its social, moral and ethical obligation and move forward.

Let's hope that the citizens will do just that on Tuesday. Vote yes to the kids. Vote yes to the community.

Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at bmarshall@gctelegram.com

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