McCOOK, Nebraska -- Citing climate control, a better sound system and safety issues, the McCook School Board voted 5 to 1 to move the high school graduation ceremony from Weiland Field to McCook Community College's Event Center.
Board member Larry Shields voted against the move at the regular board meeting Monday night and apologized for not giving the public more advance notice of the proposed change. "Elected officials need input and we could have gotten this out to the public better, even had we just let the senior parents know," he said.
Before the vote, several parents and MHS seniors addressed the board with their concerns about the move, asking that students be involved in the decision.
MHS seniors Gavin Harsh, Sara Larington, Alli Been and school board student representative Kelsey Siebrandt said that their memories of high school involve Weiland Field and although the Event Center is a good back-up plan, asked if students could be involved with the decision. Harsh said out of 37 seniors he polled, 32 preferred graduation at Weiland Field.
McCook High School parents Pam Harsh and Angie Burns also spoke in favor of keeping graduation at Weiland Field and said they were disappointed that parents and students were not given adequate notice concerning the change of location.
Board member Sandy Krysl said having commencement ceremonies at the Event Center would take care of a number of issues at Weiland Field. The Event Center would accommodate the same number of people as Weiland Field, with seating for 2,004, as well as address sound issues and unpredictable weather conditions.
Krysl said she understood the sentimental reasons for keeping graduation at Weiland Field and stated,"I love Weiland Field like everyone else, I graduated from there -- I understand that."
But high school commencement has not always been associated with Weiland, she continued, and has been at several other locations through the years, including the Temple Building, Methodist Church, MCC True Hall and the city auditorium.
"Sometimes tradition has to adapt ... I hear a lot of emotions and feelings and we need to look at this logically and objectively," she said.
Board member Shane Messersmith also agreed with the move, citing liability issues with Weiland Field for senior citizens. He also said that speakers were hard to hear at Weiland Field when it was windy and weather conditions could also affect the ceremony. "We on the board can control this ... it makes good common sense to have it in a controlled environment," he said.
Shields said if there are safety concerns at Weiland Field, it should be addressed regardless of the move. With 15-plus football games played at the field, "If safety is an issue for one ceremony, we better get it fixed now," he said.
Board president Tom Bredvick admitted moving the location was "a tough decision" for him to make. As one of three parents on the board with graduating seniors, Bredvick said there are emotional factors to consider. But graduation is more than just a place, he continued, but "it means who you are with that day." Hugs given on that day will not stop just because the location has changed.
During the discussion, high school representative Kelsey Siebrandt asked the board for more activities to be scheduled at the event center, so students could become better acquainted with the facility.
Jennifer Morgan, event coordinator for the MCC Event Center, told the board that the event center is a way for the college to connect with the community. Morgan said the college will not charge a fee for area schools to utilize the center, not just for sports-related activities but also for also academic events. "We want to open it up to as many youth as possible," she said, so the college can foster ties with the community. Already, the center will host a speech contest this year as well as Inter-High Days. In addition, there will be no charge for schools to use the event center, she said, so "the college can do what we can for you."
There are 500 seats available on the floor as well as 1, 500 on the bleachers, she said, a high-quality sound system, large projection system and a large stage with wireless microphones. There is also a "loop" system available, which those with certain hearing aids can automatically access.
Morgan said college graduation is scheduled for Friday prior to high school graduation so things will already be set up. In response to a question by Shields, Morgan said students could also decorate the center for high school graduation.