< Full site
The Northwoods River News Mobile

School board approves spending up to $5.7 million on indoor athletic facility

Jamie Taylor/River News

The crowd listens as a supporter of the proposed indoor athletic facility shares his viewpoint with the Board of Education Monday, June 10 in the Superior Diesel Advanced Learning Center at Rhinelander High School.

Board to choose between permanent dome and steel building

Applause filled the Superior Diesel Advanced Learning Center at Rhinelander High School Monday evening after the School District of Rhinelander Board of Education voted to spend up to $5.7 million in district funds toward the construction of an indoor athletic facility.

The total price tag of the project, reportedly the largest in district history, is approximately $6.9 million but $1.2 million is to come from private donors via the Hodag Schools Foundation, including a $500,000 donation from Dr. Lee Swank and family.

With the vote on the $5.7 million contribution, the board signaled it's ready to move ahead with plans to build either an air-supported dome or a steel building to allow student-athletes and others to exercise and prepare for competitions in adverse weather conditions.

The move comes after HSF president Dave Heck made a presentation to the school board May 28 urging an investment in the community's future.

At the May meeting, the district's director of business services Marta Kwiatkowski (who is set to leave her position at the end of the month) explained that due to an uptick in state aid, coupled with belt-tightening over the past several years, the general fund could handle a $3.45 million contribution to the project. Another $2.25 million would come from the maintenance budget over three years at $750,000 a year, she said,

Swank got the ball rolling late last year when he announced his intention to donate $500,000 toward the construction of an indoor athletic facility. At the time, Swank noted that he had observed the frustrations spring sports teams, in particular, have experienced over the years when persistent wintry weather has interfered with their ability to practice and compete.

According to district activities director Brian Paulson, the spring sports teams' demand for indoor practice space had students practicing until 10 p.m.

The discussion leading up to the vote on the facility took up the bulk of the nearly 90-minute meeting Monday evening. A total of 12 people, current and former coaches and physical education teachers and concerned citizens spoke in favor of going ahead with the project. Many said the status of the district's general fund balance and other factors make this the perfect moment to move forward.

Swank himself was one of those who spoke in favor of the project.

"When I first started discussing this with people, I was open-minded about either a dome or a permanent facility," Swank said. "But the more I think about it, Ron (Counter, school board president) you brought this up at the last meeting, we could use the facility year round. Six months doesn't guarantee us good weather the other six months. Particularly May and October into November can be lousy weather. Even in June, look at the weather tonight. I think a permanent, year-round facility should be our priority."

While the board originally considered a dome that would be in place for six months of the year, in the weeks since the May 28 meeting manufacturers of year-round domes have contacted the district to pitch other options, board member Mike Roberts reported.

"Some of these companies, including one that actually built the dome for the Miami Dolphins, said have you really considered a full-size permanent dome, because they can be constructed and built to withstand hurricanes, which is far worse than anything northern Wisconsin will throw at them," Roberts said. "That kind of opened up the door to discuss, in my mind, anyway, to have that opportunity to have that 90,000 to 100,000 square feet air- supported structure. So we just got numbers today."

The total cost for the half-year dome was estimated at $1,603,399, which includes a 10 percent discount if the firm that builds it is given a five-year deal to do the annual maintenance, which includes putting it up and taking it down. A permanent dome is estimated to cost between $1.8 and $2.4 million, with an additional cost of between $250-$350,000 for a fire suppression system that the temporary dome would not require. Based on estimates provided by two companies, Miron and Greenfire, the steel alternative would cost in the neighborhood of $7 million.

"Come to find out, according to Wisconsin building codes and different things, 50,000 square feet is kind of the max size you can use for a steel building," Roberts explained. "If you go bigger than that, you have to use either protected steel, which is sprayed on, or a masonry construction, which is why you see the cost of field houses jump from $7 millionish to $10 millionish, because when you go 70,000 square feet - which is the size of a building that holds a 200-meter track - it has to be either masonry constructions or protected steel, which is a great deal more expensive."

Roberts explained that a year-round permanent dome could not be placed over the field at Mike Webster Stadium because the constraints of the design would render the bleachers useless. But it would give another turf practice surface, which Kwiatkowski said was included in the estimates received so far.

"What we were thinking was that in the $3 million range, you could get a 90,000 square foot permanent dome structure, if the board chose to do that. That doubles the space (of the steel structure)," he said.

If the steel structure is selected, it would be capable of being laid out to allow half a football or soccer field, Paulson noted.

"That puts three hour-and-a-half practices in the gym and three hour-and-a-half in the new facility. That doesn't include middle school yet," Paulson said. "If we were able to build the dome, now we double our space and there could be two teams practicing in there at once."

He also noted that Rhinelander teams are traveling to places like Mauston to play softball and baseball games on their turf. In a dome, two softball games could be played at the same time. Because of its size, soccer could also be played indoors if fields conditions outside are not ideal. Soccer and softball tournaments could be held in the dome as well, which would bring in more revenue for the district.

"Anything would be tremendous, the year-round dome would be phenomenal for the space needs," Paulson said.

According to Roberts, the layout for the proposed two softball fields and football/soccer practice field behind the high school may have to be rearranged. Because the cost estimates provided for the dome don't include bathrooms, the plan is for one end of the dome to be built near the new restroom facilities at the stadium. Roberts said those restrooms were designed to handle a typical-sized crowd for sporting events at the stadium and could easily handle the estimated crowds at any event in the dome.

"Everything has to be brought up to grade, and once you bring everything up to grade, you can shuffle things around on there to make stuff fit," Roberts said.

He also noted that the board has already accepted a $20,000 in-kind donation of between 350 and 700 truckloads of fill dirt for the area between the high school and Mike Webster Stadium, which will go a long way toward bringing the elevation of the area up so that it will no longer flood.

Another factor in favor of the year-round dome is the annual maintenance costs, which would run between $250,000-300,000, for the six-month version due to having to take it down and put it up, would be only about $156,000 if it was designed to be permanent. The annual maintenance costs for the steel building were estimated at between $50-60,000.

"It's just the monthly cost of running the blowers, run the heater in the winter," Roberts said. "And if you wanted to, you could put an air conditioning unit on it in the summer if you needed to. But the way it's designed and the way the blowers move the air around, it's going to be cooler on the inside in that shaded dome even without air conditioning.

He said the dome would be supported by cables that would be anchored to a concrete grade beam. During the winter, the heaters would heat the membrane of the dome enough so that snow would slide off to the sides, where it would have to be plowed away to protect the beam.

Both the blowers and heaters would have backups and a generator would also provide power in the event of a power failure.

According to Kwiatkowski, one downside is that the insurance costs would be greater for either dome option over a steel building.

Board member Judy Conlin said she was wary of going with the six-month dome option because that would leave the high annual maintenance costs to future boards when the current board has the funds to build the permanent structure.

"So I guess I lean a little more toward the permanent because we'd be allocating dollars we know we can afford right now, it meets the needs for practice facilities," she said. "And it's allocating resources into the future that are more knowing and future boards will look back and say it makes sense."

Roberts said the choice is between a 50,000 square foot facility at almost $9 million or a 90,000 square foot facility at less than half that cost. In addition, the dome could be leased out for community events, providing revenue that could be banked to replace the membrane, which has a life expectancy of about 10 years.

Counter made the motion to spend up to $5.7 million on whichever option the board later selects when firmer bids have been received. He noted the general fund balance means the cost wouldn't be passed on to taxpayers.

Conlin, in providing the second, said the move would commit the board "to doing something," while not yet tying the district to either option at this time. Heck added that it is very likely that more donations would be made to HSF, lowering the costs or funding additional options.

The final vote was 6-0 in favor of the motion. Board members Mary Peterson, Benjamin Roskoskey and Ron Lueneburg were absent.

Earlier in the meeting, the board voted 6-0 to accept the bids to convert Mike Webster Stadium from natural to artificial turf at a cost of $573,000.

Musson Brothers will do general excavating and site preparation while SprinTurf will install the turf.

As discussed at the May 28 meeting, the natural surface of the stadium was not draining as well as district officials had hoped it would when the track was expanded to allow for soccer games to be held there.

In addition, the field was suffering undue wear and tear from all the additional usage it was experiencing. As a result, many soccer games this spring had to be played in front of the high school.

One positive attribute for the artificial turf, discovered by other area schools that have made the switch, is that snow can be plowed to the sides, allowing soccer to be played on the field early in the season.

The installation of the turf is expected to be finished by August.


The Northwoods River News Home

< Full site