Some Facebook friends applauded when the Johnston County Board of Education said it would raze the field house at Smithfield-Selma High School. Forgive us for withholding judgment until this drama plays out.
It’s not that the school board is wrong to raze the field house; far from it. Many buildings in Johnston County are much older than the SSS field house. But for reasons the school board doesn’t care to divulge, the field house has fallen into such a state of disrepair that it’s best to tear it down.
But we’re unwilling to celebrate just yet, because all we know at the moment is that the field house will come down some time after this school year ends. What we don’t know is what will replace the field house; the school board says it will decide that in consultation with SSS boosters. More important, the Smithfield-Selma community has no commitment of dollars to pay for whatever replaces the field house.
Frankly, we’ll believe that commitment only when we see a dollar amount included in a school budget approved by county commissioners. It won’t be easy for school leaders to make that commitment. Johnston County continues to need dollars to build new schools to house a growing student body. And recently, school leaders acknowledged the need to do something about Johnston’s aging schools, including Cooper Elementary, South Johnston High and, yes, Smithfield-Selma High. But if and when dollars become available to spend on the county’s oldest campuses, we don’t know that ancillary buildings like field houses will be priorities,
Nor are we convinced they should be. At Smithfield-Selma High School, student athletes have access to the showers, changing rooms and weight rooms next door at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center. So it’s fair to ask if SSS even needs a field house. But that’s a question for the SSS athletics department and school boosters to decide.
The good news that the Smithfield-Selma community exposed the sad state of the SSS field house and then successfully lobbied the board of education. That’s a testament to the power of ordinary folk to effect change.
And it’s a power that the Smithfield and Selma communities are starting to wield. Before boosters began lobbying the school board to take action on the SSS field house, another group began pressuring the school system to reverse the declining academic performance of SSS students.
But frankly, we’re not encouraged by the school system’s response to either SSS campaign. On academic performance, the school system has essentially said it’s doing all it can; on the field house, it has promised nothing more than to teardown the building.
What the Smithfield and Selma communities need now is resolve to continue the fight, because what’s at stake is quality – of the education children receive and the buildings where learning takes place.