Being fiscally fit means the schools can help students be physically fit

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Two million dollars.

    That’s how much extra money the Bedford County School Board has to work with this year, money saved from the Jefferson Forest and Staunton River High School construction projects. Getting those two projects completed ahead of schedule is a bonus; having them come in under budget is truly something to be thankful for — especially in these tight financial times.

    Now the question becomes: What to do with that money?

    The county has apparently indicated that the school board will have freedom in determining which projects to tackle with that money. And there’s plenty to consider. As School Board Chairman Gary Hostutler said recently: “There’s $2 million in extra money and $100 million in requests.”

    As the school board makes those decisions in the coming months it would be wise to consider the need at Bedford Primary School. With a student population that added second grade this year, that school is in desperate need of a gymnasium. Currently the cafeteria pulls triple duty at the school. Besides being used to provide nutrition it is also used as a space for physical education classes and as a makeshift auditorium. It’s appropriately been dubbed the school’s cafe-gym-autorium. But the school board can rectify that situation by appropriating the financing from the left-over construction money.

    There are plenty of projects that it could go to fund. Among the proposals at the top of the school board’s list is renovating the office space at Staunton River High School. That is a needed project, but it should not be done at the expense of not being able to construct the gymnasium at Bedford Primary. There are also projects at Thaxton Elementary that are long overdue as well as the need for new bleachers at the high school fields. And there’s plenty more. But at the top of the list should be the new gymnasium for Bedford Primary.

    Last year the estimated cost of building a new gym at the school was about $1.4 million. The economic times, however, might have created the perfect construction storm. Construction has slowed and crews are looking for work. This could help bring that project in at a considerably lower price, possibly as low as $1 million. If that’s the case, some of the other projects might be able to be tackled as well.

    But they should be done after the gym, not before.

    There’s little doubt these days about the need to get youth involved in physical activity. Now more than ever the youth are inclined to be watching a computer screen rather than setting a screen on the basketball court; they’re more likely to be spending time in a chat room than a weight room. The youth of today are more likely to be sitting on their expanding behinds playing baseball on a Wii than actually out on the ballfield with a real bat, ball and glove.

    The statistics are well-publicized by now. According to the American Council On Exercise:

    * About 15 percent of children and adolescents ages 6-19 years are seriously overweight.

       * The percentage of children and adolescents who are defined as overweight has nearly tripled since the early 1970s.

      * Over 10 percent of preschool children between ages 2 and 5 are overweight.

       * Another 15 percent of children and teens ages 6-19 are considered at risk of becoming overweight.

       * Researchers found that lowered self-esteem was associated with being overweight in girls as young as 5.

       * One in five children in the U.S. are overweight.

* Children with obesity, ages 10-13, are reported to have a 70 percent likelihood of obesity persisting into adult years.

    New offices would be nice, but those should only be put in after the students at Bedford Primary get a gym. All the other projects will need to fall in line.