By SABRINA GARRETT
The Wilson Post
Lebanon High Schools new, state-of-the-art, $48 million facility opened as the citys crown jewel in August; however, the 2012-2013 school year came to an unfortunate end with what Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen called a big, black eye this past Saturday.
Lebanon High School teacher Lindsay Mosley appeared before the Wilson County School Board Monday, June 3to provide a public explanation for the confusion surrounding graduation that infuriated many school parents. Mosley, who serves on the Graduation Committee, said that, in short, fear of severe weather caused officials to abandon their original plan to keep graduation on the football field which is a longtime Blue Devil tradition.On Friday, May 31, school officials chose to move the graduation time from 7 p.m. to 5 p.m. in order to avoid the weather and enjoy graduation on the field. But just before 4 p.m., Mosley said in panic, we decided to bring everybody inside, off of the aluminum stands.
The set-up, which originally took over four hours to organize on the football field, was moved into the gymnasium by faculty and staff in an hour and a half leaving graduates and special visitors in a state of chaos when it was determined that the 2,000-seat gymnasium could not accommodate all of the guests. Other guests were ushered to the cafeteria or commons area, which were set up with video of graduation but lacked audio.
Unfortunately, some parents did not even make it that far due to traffic conditions backed up on both South Hartmann Drive and West Main. Obviously there was not a traffic plan. The department starting receiving calls from citizen around 4 p.m. saying that traffic was backed up, Bowen said. There were people getting out of their cars on South Hartmann Drive, trying to run into the school to see their kids graduate and that is a big safety issue.
Bowen, who is a LHS graduate, was unable to see his son graduate due to the limited space. I dropped my wife off and she was able to run in and clap for him when his name was called but me and my in-laws, who drove from Alabama to see this, were not able to get in, he said. Why not go ahead and have a plan B in place? You are going to have to call it. The school should have said by noon - we are going to limit it to six people. To me it is just a failure. I dont care what they had to do nobody should have to miss their child graduating.
Director of Schools Mike Davis announced at the School Board Meeting that each student would receive a DVD of their graduation, free of charge.
Mosley noted that the school is currently discussing improvements that can be made for future graduations. She told board members that schools such as Wilson Central High School have opted to have an off-campus indoor graduation, but it was not an unflawed solution.
They pay about $9,000 to have it off campus now, she said, adding that many LHS students have trouble meeting the current $50 graduation fee and were unlikely to afford an increase.
Another reason the school has not sought an off-campus graduation is because the city does not have an indoor venue that could house the number of expected guests. We dont want to see another county collect that revenue, she said.
Lebanon-Wilson Chamber of Commerce CEO Sue Vanatta said that this is just another case where the city shows the need for an event center. All of the money that is being spent by the high schools going to their proms and graduations out of the county we could have an event center that could accommodate all the needs of our students.
It would have been nice to have that option to schedule our graduations here locally and having a facility that would accommodate them, added Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead, who has promoted building an event center in the new Cumberland Center off Highway 231.
It is time for Lebanon and Wilson County to think ahead and to make a center like the event center become a reality. We are missing out on so many possibilities. The investment in a center will have a major return on our investment for jobs and revenues, he said.
Plans for the proposed center project arena-style seating that could hold 4,500 or 6,500 with standing and floor-seating. We will need to be looking at legislation this next year. There are a few options available and I am looking at them. I am looking forward to meeting our new Director of Schools (Dr. Tim Sutterlund) and talking with him, Craighead said. An event center would be an extension of our educational capabilities. I want to hear his thoughts and hopefully garner his support, along with the school board. I want a center that will meet the needs of our high schools.