A plan to construct a state-of-the-art aquatic facility, including an Olympic-sized swimming pool and fitness center, has recently been formulated and approved for the Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD). After months of brainstorming, discussing and debating among the SMSD Board of Education and the Facilities Committee, they decided to include the aquatic center as a part of the Local Option Budget (LOB).
The LOB is the name of a bond, which is money the school district borrows, like a loan, that taxpayers will pay back with interest. Voters in SMSD received ballots on Jan. 7, asking them to vote on the bond. The vote over the 223 million dollar bond will come to a close on Jan. 27.
The aquatic facility will allow Shawnee Mission swim and dive teams to evolve into better programs, according to District Athletic Director Matt Johnson.
“If the bond is passed,”Johnson said. “One of the biggest impacts the aquatic center will have is the fact that a facility of this size would allow the district to host large meets, which is something we struggle with at this time.”
The current SMSD high school swimming pools have limited space. Hosting a meet with more than two or three teams is virtually impossible, according to Johnson. The aquatic center would allow district swimming programs to host the regional, district, league and potentially even state meets, with multiple teams involved.
The LOB includes the reconstruction of several elementary schools, updating high school library media centers, renovating high school little theaters and adding turf fields to SMSD high schools.
The Shawnee Mission East cafeteria will also be remodeled and expanded. The schools will get new heating and cooling systems, and updated security and safety systems. Some of the bond would also go towards technology. The last section of the bond would go to the new aquatic facility for the district, along with the fitness and wellness center located at SM South High School.
“The facility will be state of the art,” Johnson said. “Something that our pools haven’t been because they were built at the same time as our schools.”
The wellness and fitness center will have workout equipment and workout classes available. Within the aquatic center itself, there would be a 50 meter competition pool, diving wells, locker rooms and possibly additional locker rooms for the stadium area because it is going to be located near the South stadium. There will also be some common classroom areas and meeting space, as well as storage rooms for equipment for schools if they need extra space.
Another component of the aquatic center would be swimming lessons that the District will offer to every student in the district at the elementary school level. However, availability to all high school students is still undetermined.
“All of those type of things are kind of in the works and in discussion,” Johnson said. “Nothing has been decided, however there is a desire to have a district fitness center that is available for all students.”
The fitness and wellness center that is planned to be built next to the aquatic center will probably be similar to a gym like Lifetime Fitness, maybe a little smaller scale, according to Johnson.
“It will probably have ellipticals and bikes, with circuit training and weights” said Johnson, “There will be rooms for aerobics, cardio, and Zumba classes.”
The Shawnee Mission South location for the facility was chosen because of the amount of land that’s available at the site, according to the SMSD Associate Superintendent of Communication, Leigh Anne Neal.
“South has the land available to do that,” Neal said. “Superintendent Dr. Jim Hinson indicated it would be built at the south end of the football stadium.
The original location for the facility was a section of the Shawnee Mission School District Environmental Lab, near the intersection of 107th Street and Nall Avenue. Frustration felt by many students throughout the district resulted in a petition to move the location of the aquatic center. The petition traveled around Facebook, gaining more than 2,000 signatures. One of those signatures was an SME Environmental Education teacher, James Lockard.
The Board of Education fenced in the area and designated it as an environmental lab in 1967. Starting in 1969, environmental classes in the district use the lab for science programs.
Hannah Underwood, a sophomore swimmer at Shawnee Mission South, has a special appreciation of the lab, and the possible aquatic center.
“The lab is very important to South, because it was a donation from the people that used to own the land,” Underwood said. “Lots of people were freaking out when we first found out about the facility possibly being built on the grassland, and no one seemed to understand or even care that the district actually needs a nice aquatic center.”
Underwood and Lockard are glad the location of the center was moved next to the football stadium.
“This is our district’s environmental lab,” Lockard said, “It’s the only one we have. There is a smaller one at Northwest, but as far as 23 acres of environment that you can study goes, it’s the only place.”
There are about a dozen different major kinds of trees in the lab, according the Lockard.
“I’m not sure how many species of plants, but its the only place in this part of Johnson County where you can actually go look at tallgrass prairie,” Lockard said.
Lockard brings his AP classes out to the lab on field trips to study different species of trees in the Woodland part of the lab. Students take a survey of the trees, then come back to East to analyze the data. The lab is also used by summer nature programs, and other high schools go over and use it occasionally. South students use it often in their curriculum, according to Lockard.
If the bond passes, construction near the stadium will start as soon as possible.
“Depending on the outcome of the bond, the district would begin processes on the project and form a timeline,” said Neal. “It is hard to determine when construction will exactly start.”
Bonnie Longan, the junior Captain of the East’s girls swim team, is unsure of how much the East teams would used the facility because of its location.
“It would be annoying to drive back and forth between pools if we practiced there one day and practiced at East the next,” Longan said. “It seems like South would really benefit more from the practices at the center because it’s right there at the school.”
The extra seating for parents and competitors will also be helpful, according to Longan.
“Our meets now are very cramped, and there is hardly any where to sit among the parents and swimmers at meets with more than two teams,” Longan said.
An additional section of the bond allows for improvements to the high school pools, so the teams can still practice at their home sites.
According to Neal, though the outcome of the LOB election can’t be projected, and the district is hopeful that the bond proposals will be approved by voters..
“Generally, the feedback from parents and community members has been very positive,” Neal said. “SMSD is fortunate to serve a community that values education and has a longstanding tradition of supporting its schools.”