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Wichita high schools get new gyms, new logos

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Sep. 8, 2013, at 11:06 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, March 2, 2014, at 3:14 p.m.

One afternoon last week, the Wichita North High School gymnasium rumbled with the sound of clapping, stomping, shouting, cheering students – the first pep rally of the new school year.

Not far away, crews worked to put finishing touches on a new gymnasium scheduled to open this fall. The new gym – part of North High’s $12 million expansion and one of several being built as part of the district’s $370 million bond issue – will highlight the school’s 84-year-old architecture in a modern new shell.

“We always try to keep the feel of an old building, echo some of the features,” said Kenton Cox, an architect with Schaefer Johnson Cox & Frey and a 1960 graduate of North. “You don’t want it to look out of place.”

That’s a balance being struck throughout the district as high schools welcome state-of-the-art facilities but work to retain long-held traditions.

At North, which was built in 1929, a newly redesigned and trademarked logo punctuates the center of the new gym floor, replacing the painting of an American Indian feathered headdress, which will remain in the old gym. Both the logo and design accents in the new gym echo the architectural motif on the facade of the original building, incorporating cross-hatches, staggered blocks and teepee designs.

South High’s new gym, which opened this summer, features a more stylized Titan logo. And at East, the center circle of the old gym floor – a painting of “Blue Max,” the flying ace – hangs as artwork on the second floor of the new gym, which opened a decade ago.

“The alumni that attend games or come back for reunions really appreciate it,” said East principal Ken Thiessen. “Many pictures are taken in front of it.”

New gym projects at South, North and West are happening in conjunction with a districtwide update of high school logos, said spokeswoman Wendy Johnson. Over the past two years, officials have been working to standardize and trademark logos at all eight Wichita public high schools.

“The conversations we’ve had about the school icons are all about the district identifying marks that are unique to each of our high schools,” Johnson said.

“At some point, we would like to do more in terms of merchandising,” she said. “And being able to protect those brands, it’s important, because people see the Southeast Golden Buffalo and they assume that what that buffalo is attached to is an official school endeavor.”

Most of the high school logos were just tweaked for the update, Johnson said. North’s logo, which was nearly identical to one for the University of Utah Utes, was revised to include teepees and cross-hatches in the circle and a different design above the feathers.

The official logo for Heights High School no longer looks like the one for the Atlanta Falcons football team. Instead, it features overlapping block letters “W” and “H.”

But the old Falcon still decorates the center of Heights’ new gym because that project was designed and built before the new logo was trademarked, said Jay Means, the district’s athletics director.

“That’s another reason why (new gyms) are such a big deal to a lot of people: Whatever’s down there now is going to be there for a long time,” Means said. “You don’t just come in there next year and say, ‘Well, I don’t like that color so I’m going to paint it again.’ ”

Sherman Padgett, principal at North, said students and alumni are eager to see that school’s new gym, at least in part because they want to know how the floor and wall decor look. A committee of architects, district officials and school representatives helped design the interior, including a railing on the second-floor walking track that features shapes from the building’s facade.

The new gym’s lobby and concession area look remarkably like the original, only bigger and brighter.

“There’s a lot of back and forth that goes on about what you put there because this school is all about history and tradition,” Padgett said. “It does matter to a lot of people.”

Over the years, that history has included controversy over the Redskins mascot, which some opponents have said is offensive to American Indians. In 1996, after a heated community-wide debate, former North High principal Ralph Teran decided the school would keep its Redskins nickname and theme, citing overwhelming support from students and alumni. But he said North would avoid any caricature-style artwork or decorations.

The new gymnasium effectively balances old and new, said Means, the district athletics director.

But just as some Bishop Carroll Catholic High School supporters may mourn the loss of “The Cave” – which was replaced by a new and much more quiet gymnasium in 2009 – North fans likely have mixed emotions about moving to new digs.

“That old gym at North, it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s such a classic old place,’ ” Means said. “In some respects it’s tough for them to give up that feel of that gym and that home-court advantage.

“But the new gym is exciting. … It’s part of a whole new start.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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