FORT MILL -- The gyms at Nation Ford and Fort Mill high schools are crowded all day, every day.
At least two, and sometimes three, physical education classes have to share the gym floor at both schools during each of the four class blocks. And sometimes at Fort Mill, the ROTC unit needs to use the gym as well. Next year, Nation Ford will have its own ROTC unit.
Second block is the worst at both schools, educators and students say; 120 students are crammed into the gym at Fort Mill High and 79 use the gym at Nation Ford during that class period, according to officials at both schools.
"You just can't have them all involved and active," Nation Ford Principal Beverley Bowman said. "We just don't have the space."
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Should township voters approve both questions on a March 4 bond referendum, the space crunch could be a thing of the past by the start of the 2009-2010 school year, according to Jim Britton, a spokesman for the district's construction consultant, Southern Management Group.
Should the bond pass in March, Britton said, the school board could select an architect for the gyms in April. He estimates a six-week design process with contractor bids coming in around August or September. If the nine-month construction process gets underway by October, the gyms should be ready for use the following school year.
Each auxiliary gym will cost an estimated $1.86 million and be fully functional as a practice facility. Neither will have amenities such as scoreboards or bleachers that are already in the primary gyms at both schools.
"As educators, we can always deal with what we have, but if we can do something to help make it better, we have to take that opportunity," Bowman said. "Now what we have to do is strategically schedule, but with [more] growth it will be impossible."
The schools offer four different freshman PE classes. Each covers different sports, including volleyball and basketball or wrestling and flag football. However, according to Bowman, the schools may have to cut back on the offerings because there won't be room for all of the various activities to run at the same time. PE is required for all freshmen.
"What happens is, the opportunities you offer the kids are reduced," she said. "They are the ones that ultimately feel the impact of space restrictions."
Crowded gyms affect more than PE classes, though. Winter sports especially feel the pinch. Both high schools were faced with finding practice times for five basketball teams, including varsity and junior varsity teams for both boys and girls and ninth-grade boys teams. And the start of the winter season overlaps the end of the fall season when the varsity and junior varsity volleyball teams are still practicing.
"We operate a pretty successful 4A athletic program in a 2A facility," Fort Mill High Athletic Director Bailey Jackson said. "The coaches do a tremendous job with the space issues and scheduling concerns."
Cheerleaders also use the gym for practice, Jackson said. And members of winter guard -- which involved tossing, catching and twirling objects such as replica rifles and flags -- always need space to practice, he added.
"On Tuesdays and Fridays with home basketball games, the JV teams have nowhere to practice," Jackson said. "With the school student body shrinking (with the opening of Nation Ford High) it may not seem like we need more space, but we still have the same number of teams."
When it rains, the problem is exacerbated Jackson and Bowman said. In the fall, the football team at Fort Mill retreats to the commons area, a room full of glass trophy cases and large windows, in inclement weather. Teams at Nation Ford also pile into the school building looking for space.
"Spring sports have to go inside during the rain, and we have nowhere for them to go early in the season with basketball and wrestling still going on," Jackson said.
Over the last several years at Fort Mill and this year at Nation Ford, students on the basketball teams are practicing before school and late into the evening, school players said.
"Because of so many teams we come in early," Nation Ford freshman and boys basketball player D.J. Dinwiddie said. "We're here at 6 a.m., and sometimes we don't leave until 10 at night."
"It's 5:20 (a.m.) for us," Ally Lambert, a freshman NFHS Lady Falcon said.
The early mornings and late nights affect their school work, the two said. A morning practice leaves them tired most of the day, and the late evening practices make it hard to get homework done.
And when they do get into the gym, each team usually only has half the court to practice on because another team is using the other half, Lambert said.
"With two teams in there you can barely hear the coaches," Dinwiddie said. "You can't get as much done as if you had the space to yourself with one team."
"It's kind of chaotic some times," Lambert added. "We need more time and space."
The successful, but long-suffering Fort Mill High wrestling team hopes to get some relief from the bond, too. For 13 years, the team has begun its practices by clearing the commons area and wheeling in two, 900-pound, rolled-up wrestling mats. The mats have to be rolled out and disinfected. They repeat the process in reverse at the end of each practice. Coach Chris Brock said it wastes about 45 minutes each day.
"It would be huge for the program not to have to move them," Brock said. "We grind these guys for two, two-and-half hours of a grueling workout, and follow that with 20 minutes of rolling the mats, and they get discouraged."
The constant rolling and unrolling reduces the life of each mat, Brock said. The school spent approximately $8,000 on the last one it bought. It should last 20 years, but Brock has had to make more than two dozen spot repairs to it already. It won't be long before it has to be cut down and reconditioned. The biggest danger to the mats and the wrestlers is moving them on wheeled dollies through narrow doorways.
"There are some sharp edges on some of these doors and if you snag one, before you know it, you've got a gash [to the mat] a couple of feet long," Brock said. "We've had some injuries to the guys too -- the mats running over their feet or ankles."
The lack of space makes it harder for Brock to recruit students, he said.
"Other sports have facilities that invite people to get involved," he said. "Who wants to move 3,000 pounds of mat every day?"