Briarwood parents leery of district’s plans for gym they raised money to help build

Briarwood parents raised $75,000 ten years ago that was used to make significant upgrades to the gym.
Briarwood parents raised $75,000 ten years ago that was used to make significant upgrades to the gym.

A group of Briarwood Elementary neighborhood parents say they’re growing worried that the Shawnee Mission School District may end up demolishing the gymnasium they spent months raising money to help build a decade ago.

Susan Ogg’s youngest child has moved on to Indian Hills, but when her older children were at Briarwood ten years ago, Ogg was one of seven members of a committee that worked to raise money for upgrades to the school’s gym. Over several months, the group raised tens of thousands of dollars through the sale of merchant discount cards to Corinth Square, business sponsorships, and a 5K race, among other initiatives. Through just one fundraising effort, where families could purchase a brick for the gym plaza, more than 200 families donated.

The committee was able to use approximately $75,000 of the money it raised to fund upgrades to the facility that wouldn’t have been paid for by the district. Those upgrades included expanded square footage, bleachers to seat 300 and a real wood floor.

“We really wanted it to be the state-of-the-art facility in the district,” Ogg said. “We look at this great new gym everyone worked so hard to make nice and we think it’s an asset to the community.

When Shawnee Mission School Board Chair Deb Zila and Associate Superintendent Kenny Southwick visited the school in January as part of the effort to promote the district’s bond initiative, parents were told that the nine year old gymnasium would stand and that the new building would be constructed around it.

Now, Ogg says, a group of parents who were involved in the fundraising efforts a decade ago say they can’t get a straight answer about whether that’s still the case. Ogg said that after days of attempting to connect with district officials on the matter, the group received word that Southwick would meet with them next Thursday to discuss their concerns. But they’ve heard from district sources that cost and safety considerations mean that keeping the gym intact isn’t a sure thing.

Asked if the district planned to keep the gym standing, district spokeswoman Leigh Anne Neal said that the “plans for the rebuilding of Briarwood Elementary School are still in development.”

“District officials are reviewing design possibilities with architects to ensure that we are able to incorporate our educational standards, safety and emergency preparedness features, and achieve an optimal building design and placement to meet the needs today and in the future,” Neal said. “We will continue to meet with stakeholders during the design process and consider all of the input as we move forward with our decision-making.”

The district is scheduled to approve a contract for architectural engineering services for the Briarwood rebuild at its Monday board of education meeting.