BY JOHN BOHNENKAMP
DONNELLSON – Tom Keating said Central Lee High School’s new gymnasium had a “wow” factor.
“It’s there when you drive up,” Keating said. “And then when you get in here, there’s another ‘wow’ factor.”
Tuesday’s opening night for the new gym certainly impressed Keating, the executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, and Jean Berger, the executive director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.
“When you get into the inside of it — the weight room, the gym — just a great presentation,” Keating said. “And if you’re a kid, you’ve got to feel real good about coming in here. ‘This is my place.’
“To me, this is a great sign of the confidence the community has in the school district. To support something like this, they’re saying, ‘Our kids are important enough to provide them with the best experience possible.’”
“Just the emphasis on the comfort, the gathering points, and where students connect, it’s very impressive,” Berger said. “You can tell they put a great deal of thought into it.
“People now need to know that people care. The community here has embraced that. It’s a wonderful thing, really.”
The new gym was part of a $12.9 million facility upgrade that featured improvements to security, learning, fine arts, and athletic space to the district’s campus southeast of Donnellson. Work began on the project in the summer of 2020.
The 1,400-seat gym, more than double the capacity of the old gym, was ready for use on Tuesday, when Central Lee’s volleyball team played host to top-ranked (Class 1A) Notre Dame, but it took some late work to get things done.
Superintendent Andy Crozier said the final bleacher work was done on Monday night, and after a fire marshal inspection on Tuesday, everything was ready.
Keating and Berger, along with Central Lee athletes Alex Sandoval and Macy Watkins, did the ceremonial first serves in a pre-match event.
“If you’re in activities, you’re probably spending 8-9 hours a day at your school,” Keating said. “So why not make it a place they can be proud of, a place they can enjoy being a part of? For the community to get behind this, it says a lot about the school board, it says a lot about the staff here, and people feel like they can get behind what these folks have envisioned.”
Keating and Berger said the gym could be a future site for postseason events because of the amenities and the size.
“We’ve never been shy about asking schools to host,” Berger said, laughing. “Especially in this area, we’re looking for facilities to hold our events.
Central Lee lost its first match in the new gym, falling in three games to the Nikes. The feeling on Tuesday, though, was that this was a victory for the district.
“There’s nothing that brings a community together like a high school sports team,” Berger said. “The fact that they were willing to invest in the kids, invest in activities, says a lot.”