OTTUMWA —  The Ottumwa School Board approved $900,000 in improvements to Ottumwa High School and Evans Middle School Monday night, including the expansion of the equipment in the weight room for the strength and conditioning program.

Superintendent Mike McGrory said some of the improvements in the plan presented to the board were possible due to money the district received for COVID-19 relief. He said the third round of ESSER funds for the district will be $9.7 million, with the district receiving close to $14 million in relief total. He said that funding opens doors to upgrades that weren’t possible before.

At OHS, the plan includes several parts. The vo-tech area will see the hallway ceilings redone. The cafeteria will see several upgrades, including new lighting, a chair lift, new p ring and the replacement of bad ceiling tiles, said Lindsey Beinhart, director of operations and maintenance. The hallways and classrooms will also be painted as needed, and new hallway lights with sensors will be installed along with new emergency lighting. Lockers will be painted as well, and new lighting will be installed in both gyms.

At EMS, Beinhart’s presentation included new lighting in the rubber gym, paint in selected hallways, the installation of LED lighting in the halls and common areas and the replacement of waterless urinals. The sixth-grade wing will see select classrooms get new flooring to match the classrooms that were previously done, and that wing will also see upgrades to the bathrooms.

“Within five years, it is estimated the LED lighting will pay for itself through cost savings and rebates,” he said.

The wrestling room will see LED light installation, painting of the walls and ceiling, patching of holes and the installation of new equipment.

The plan for both building also includes some focus on the exterior, such as sidewalk repairs, maintaining grounds at a higher level and “focus on the exterior of buildings to align with our district vision,” according to the presentation.

Scott Maas, athletic director, gave an overview of athletic upgrades. He said the wood gym at Evans would be fitted with new basketball structures, backboards and rims; sanding and repainting of the floor; and a replacement of the bleachers. The new set of bleachers would allow for more space for athletes’ chairs on the home side as well as a cutout to fit a new, larger scorers’ table.

Board President David Weilbrenner asked how that would affect the amount of seating available at events. Maas said that there would be a loss of seating, particularly on the home side, but he doesn’t see that as having an impact on the crowds seen at events.

“We very rarely have that place packed fully with people shoulder to shoulder. It doesn’t happen very often,” he said.

McGrory also said that anytime you install new bleachers, you expect to see about a 10% decrease in seating because of handicap requirements. “You’re always going to lose a bit of seating space,” he said.

Maas also touched on the shot put and discus area on the practice field of Schafer Stadium. The proposal includes expanding to three circles for each event with new fencing for the discus circles. He also proposed installing red material similar to a baseball diamond for the shot put area, rather than having the athletes through into the grass.

A major focus of improvements was placed on the strength and conditioning program. Beinhart said one of the improvements at OHS was to replace the flooring in the weight room. Maas said that with the space being built over the old pool, they need to make sure the floor is sound enough to handle the new equipment proposed for the S&C program and to make changes to it if it’s not.

Luke Goemaat, S&C coach and instructor for the class beginning in the fall, expanded on his vision for the program. That includes increasing the number of power racks from seven to 14 with 10 feet of room on either side. They would run down the middle of the room, calling for the need for the floor improvements.

Additional equipment for the program included in the proposal includes slam balls, wall balls, resistance bands, plyo boxes, hurdles, foam rollers, sleds, stability balls and Bosu balls.

Improvements include painting the walls, removing the drop ceiling and painting it and a new sound system.

That increase in equipment is needed, Goemaat said, by pure numbers. The class currently serves 222 students, with 30 or more in a class, leading to five or more students on a rack at a time. With the increase, that could be reduced to three students at a time, which is an ideal number, he said.

Expanding the equipment could lead to the availability of serving 290 students, expanding the program. The purchase of additional equipment for speed, agility, plyometric and power training could also expand the program.

Goemaat said there is 2,000 square feet of space not being utilized in the fitness center, where equipment could be relocated to create a second gym suitable for beginners. That’s important, he said, because currently students of different experience and ability levels are training together. This will allow for a beginner section, where kids who want to exercise but don’t know how to could learn to do it the correct way. That could increase the program capacity to 490 students.

He also spoke of expansion to Evans, where his proposal included wight half rack with platforms and dumbbells. An intro to lifting class would then be available to those in eighth grade with a capacity of 140 students — and the ability to expand in the future.

All told, the improvements would allow the S&C program to expand service to more than 630 students in the district on top of the athletes training before and after school.

Board member Christina Schark asked if this would be available to every student in the district.

“I am the strength coach, so I work with our athletes. I’m also very passionate about fitness in general,” Goemaat said. “If I have a kid that wants to come in and work hard, I’m never gonna tell them that they can’t be in the weight room.”

Manson expressed concern about the class sizes and safety with the ability to serve more than 600 students in a day. Goemaat said two weight rooms and more equipment allowed for that. “I can afford to have more kids in my class. Really, everything that we do, safety is the top priority.”

He said that the number of three students per power rack is an ideal number, allowing for one person working out, one spotter and one person working to the side or inputting data into a tracking system.

The board voted unanimously to approve the upgrades presented by Beinhart, Maas and Goemaat.

Schark addressed the S&C program specifically, saying she’s delved into the curriculum of the class. She sees it as a whole health program that also focuses on sleep, nutrition and relationships in addition to fitness.

“I just feel like this is a really good thing to move forward and add to and invest in for our district,” she said. However, she has heard of coaches who have asked their athletes to not participate in the program while in season.

“That puts the student-athlete in a really awkward position because kids are taking strength and conditioning for a grade and they’re taking it as a part of their school day. I would just hope the athletic office is sending a very clear message that as we continue to add resources to a very good and important program for our district that the expectation is that all of the athletic and the activities office to support that,” she said.

“I would want to make sure that as the board … as we continue to add resources to this program, there’s an expectation to all our varsity coaches that we get behind this program.”

— Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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