Does the school need a rec complex and/or vice versa?

There are two camps forming over the proposed Ely community recreation complex. Those who want it to be located on school grounds and those who want it anywhere but there.
The school board has been asking for details on how the district would be impacted. Details are still coming in but there’s plenty of unanswered questions.
As one critic said, “It’s easy to build it, but who will pay for the operation and maintenance for the next 20 years?”
While that answer is still drifting in the fog, we do have some information to share on the value the complex could bring to the district.
Athletic Director Tom Coombe (also an Ely Echo employee) provided information to the joint school board/ERCC subcommittee.
Here are some of the points he raised:
• It’s speculative to identify a specific number of hours that school district athletic teams would use a recreation complex. Variables including participation numbers for each respective program, home and away game schedules, junior high tournaments coordinated by our booster clubs, and even the weather are all factors. School district priority for gymnasium space during a set time, perhaps 3-6 p.m. during the fall, and 3-8 or 3-9 p.m. during the winter and spring, would be of far more value to the district than simply competing with other entities for time. Some or perhaps even much of that time could go unused. But for the additional space to be of any value for our teams, it must be available when we need it, which often times may be on short notice or weather-driven.
• From an athletic department perspective, there is a need for additional gymnasium space, both for practice and home games. Since the JFK gymnasium closed, the junior high basketball and volleyball teams have been limited to the small gym, creating tight quarters and safety concerns during home games. During junior high basketball games, spectators are actually on the playing floor. We can play only one and not two junior high games when we have home events, because we simply can’t have an activity going on in the small gym while a varsity game is taking place. Even during JV games when fewer people are present, we have a bottleneck at the entry into the small gym. Practices are also hindered by the shortage of space, and the spring sports are affected while we wait for snow to melt and the teams to get outside. Boys and girls track, golf, softball (varsity and JV) and baseball (varsity, JV and junior high) are all competing for the same limited space. Most if not all of the schools we play have more gymnasium space than us.
• The high school athletic department’s need for more gymnasium space is not necessarily tied to a recreation complex project. The current proposal is one but not the only way to add gym space on the district campus. Timing, financing, the availability of revenue and other district facility needs are some of the other factors which will invariably play into a decision. Would the district benefit from a rec complex that has available gym space? Certainly. Is it the only way to tackle the issue? No.
• There seems to be some misunderstanding about the high school girls swimming program and the Ely district’s involvement in it. The Ely board eliminated girls swimming after the 2006-07 school year, and closed the pool, in a round of budget reductions. Since then, Ely students have had the opportunity to participate in girls swimming through a cooperative with Northeast Range. The Ely district has no oversight of this program and bears no financial obligation or responsibility. Given that Ely students make up the vast majority of swimmers on the Northeast Range/Ely co-op, my fear is Northeast Range will either eliminate the program or ask Ely to foot much of the bill. To this date, there has been no discussion by the Ely district of bringing back girls swimming as a varsity sport, and doing so would require significant expense (easily $10,000-plus per year). Even if the new recreation complex has a swimming pool, there’s no guarantee that the Ely district would bring back varsity swimming and absorb these additional expenses.
Coombe’s points provide an additional and important viewpoint in the debate over the district’s involvement in the community recreation complex.

As the board moves closer to a decision on this controversial issue, we believe this information should be weighed by the board. It’s far from a slam dunk to assume the district should proceed with giving the green light.
If tough questions aren’t asked and precise answers aren’t given, the critics will have even more ammunition to shoot down the plan to locate the complex on school grounds.