FCHS building front picture

Winchester has taken the lead by being the first Franklin County community to approve funding toward a planned Health, Wellness & Sports Center being developed by the School System.

The City Council unanimously approved on April 13 to fund $42,890 as a one-time contribution to the project and agreed to fund $25,734 annually thereafter.

City Administrator Beth Rhoton said the initial appropriation is based on $5 per capita for Winchester’s 8,578 residents. The subsequent amount is based on $3 per capita.

Director of Schools Stanley Bean said the 21,600-square-foot facility, to be built on property at Franklin County High School, adjacent to two practice fields, will be able to accommodate multiple sports, including elementary school basketball, special education and Olympics, wrestling, softball, baseball, cheerleading, clubs, indoor curriculum and STREAM activities.

It could also be used for band activities, after-school teacher activities, summer programs and parent/student/family engagement activities.

Bean said the School System’s facilities have been stressed to accommodate social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the wellness center would help alleviate that problem.

He said the facility will cost more than $3 million, and the funding to build it would be from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund from which the School System is getting $14.9 million.

The funding is referred to as ESSER 1.0, $1 million; ESSER 2.0, $4.3 million, and ESSER 3.0, $9.6 million.

Bean said the money would probably be taken from the ESSER 2.0 and 3.0 appropriations.

He said the system has to meet strict requirements to get the funding, and the facility’s objective has to be focused on aspects of health and wellness.

For that reason, the facility is being designed to accommodate the general public in the before- and after-school hours.

Bean said money is being requested from city and county governments so that the facility can be staffed when school personnel are not on the grounds.

He said the money will cover the cost of hiring full- and part-time staff for morning, late afternoon/evening, weekend and summer shifts.

Community members will sign a user agreement to use the facility.

Plans are to have an indoor walking track that can be used by the general public from 5-7:30 a.m. and from 4-9 p.m.

The center could also be used for group functions, open gym opportunities and include a game room, kids zone, computer room, weight room and space for family and community functions.

Plans are to have it feature a hard-surface area for sports such as basketball and have a turfed area to accommodate indoor soccer and other similar sports.

“Franklin County lacks an indoor, multi-use center,” Bean said. “The proposed center will be used to help meet the needs for a safe and healthy learning environment for students and a safe and healthy wellness area for families in our community.”

He stressed the safety aspect by saying that the high school’s main and auxiliary gyms are regularly shared by multiple groups at any given time.

“Additional spacing would provide a safer environment for regular education and, especially, special-education students during COVID-19,” Bean said.