The gymnastics community is pressing the Prior Lake-Savage school district for more space for its nearly two dozen members to play and practice.
The district’s Laker team has launched an online petition urging the school system to move the team out of the Twin Oaks Middle School and into the high school, where new facility additions are planned for the 2019-20 school year. The group also is raising alarm about the possibility of losing space at the middle school in the fall offseason.
To date, the petition has reached more than half its 1,000-signature goal.
The debate around adding practice space for the gymnasts bubbled up in 2016 when district leaders began to discuss referendum language. The plan then was to add a six-court facility to the high school, which would allow the gymnastics program to have a permanent space. Voters, however, rejected that request.
Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools, with about 8,500 students, has seen a steady uptick in enrollment of about 250 new students annually in the last five years.
To address the growth demands, voters approved last year a $109.3 million bond referendum and a 10-year, $924 per-pupil operating levy. At least $47 million of the bond referendum would pay for districtwide building additions and renovations, including a four-court activity center and a promise to transition as many programs currently practicing at the middle school over to the high school.
“Physical education classroom space continues to be a concern districtwide as we continue to grow,” said Russ Reetz, Prior Lake High School’s activities director. “The four-court is only going to allow us to do so much. We can’t have everybody come over.”
Dance and cheer are among the programs that will move to the high school in the fall of 2020. Meanwhile, the gymnastics program will stay at Twin Oaks Middle School where it has been since 2004. But its presence at the school in the fall may be in jeopardy if the district adds more physical education courses during the day.
The Minnesota State High School League, which governs athletic programs statewide, permits coaches to work with their gymnasts during the season — from the end of October until the beginning of March. Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools officials say they would grant the gymnasts practice space during that time period and also from June 1 to July 31 when the coaches can sign a summer waiver to work with the team.
The district does not have a community education gymnastics program space where the team can work in the offseason.
“Gymnastics requires a full-time, year-round dedicated space that we don’t have,” Reetz said. “Its equipment is not something you can take down and set up each day for practice. It has to exist in that space both during the school day and after school.”
The middle school has four courts available to accommodate the gymnasts during the school day for physical education purposes. The team says that will not be enough to support its budding gymnasts and is wary that the district will eventually scrap the program.
The gymnastics program, which serves nearly two dozen students from seventh to 12th grades, has shown strong results. In 2012, the team qualified for state and finished seventh overall. The district also sent individual qualifiers to state for several years in a row, officials said.
The team plans on presenting its case to district Superintendent Teri Staloch, arguing in their petition: “We feel we aren’t recognized for the potential we have.”