Let robotics team have gym

Published 4:05 am Friday, October 24, 2008

One of this community’s educational jewels, the Franklin High School robotics team, is on the verge of disbanding.

For that preventable tragedy, the community can thank the inaction of administrators who have known since May that the team needs a place to set up shop and prepare for state competition in early 2009.

The robotics team, which annually ranks among Virginia’s best and brightest, was displaced from the Franklin High School campus last spring when a vocational-trades program was revived and claimed the space the robotics team had occupied. No one’s quibbling with that decision, as vocational training is sorely needed in this community.

Shameful, though, is that five months have passed and the robotics team is still homeless.

Faculty sponsor Liz Burgess and volunteer mentors, almost immediately upon their displacement, began pressing the school administration to identify a new location for the team. Meantime, they conducted their own search, scouring the community for vacant commercial buildings that might suit the team’s needs.

Frustrated by administrators’ unresponsiveness, Burgess and several mentors took their case to the city school board last week, asking specifically for use of the abandoned Charles Street gym, adjacent to J.P. King Middle School.

School board members praised the robotics team but stopped short of intervening in what should be an administrative decision.

The robotics mentors made a great case for use of the Charles Street facility. It has lots of floor space and a high ceiling. It is centrally located. And, most important, the robotics team and its adult supporters can defray most, if not all, of the estimated $45,000 cost of making the building functional, including heating and wiring.

School administrators apparently weren’t impressed. Assistant Superintendent Walter “Ricky” Clemons said other displaced groups want to use the facility and that the school division must act in the best interest of all.

With due respect to wrestlers and cheerleaders, the robotics team should get priority. Though an extracurricular program, robotics is largely an academic pursuit. It engages students in math, science and engineering — subject areas in which America is lagging the rest of the world both academically and professionally.

School administrators should bend over backward to help this successful program not just survive but thrive.