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July 22, 2019

5/30/2019 7:30:00 AM
Hodag Schools Foundation urges investment in facilities
New indoor practice facility, dome part of proposal

Jamie Taylor
River News Reporter


The Hodag Schools Foundation has taken a $500,000 pledge from Dr. Lee Swank and family earmarked to fund indoor sports facility improvements and, with the generosity of other donors, grown it to $1.4 million, the School District of Rhinelander Board of Education learned Tuesday.

Dave Heck, president of the HSF, presented the group's ideas for improvements to the district's sports facilities during a special school board meeting Tuesday. He urged the board to contribute money from its general fund balance to invest in the facilities to benefit not only future students but the community as a whole.

To fund the recommended improvements, the school district would have to contribute almost $5 million, according to the HSF proposal.

Some of those dollars could come from the district's maintenance budget and debt service due to drop off the district's books, however between $2.5 and $3 million would have to come from the general fund.

Over the course of about 45 minutes, Heck walked the board through a Powerpoint presentation of the research HSF has done into improving the athletic facilities with an eye toward providing practice space for athletes during late winter and early spring.

The research began after the Swank donation was announced in December, he noted.

"We've raised close to $2 million dollars in the last 16 years," Heck said, referring to the length of time HSF has been operating. "We appreciate Dr. Swank's great springboard, what he did with his pledge."

Heck also noted that HSF just received two major donations toward the project in the last week as more people join the campaign.

Heck listed several reasons why the district should make investments in the practice facilities, citing the $1,339,800 in state school money the district loses per year due to students open enrolling into districts with better facilities. He also noted alack of practice space has had some spring athletes practicing at 10 p.m. due to poor weather, the opportunity for physical education classes to hold class indoors and the potential benefit to the Rhinelander community through winter events.

After the Swank donation was announced, a committee made up of foundation members, board members and district administrators began studying how other school districts have solved the need for indoor practice facilities.

Another option the committee studied that was presented to the board Tuesday was a dome facility that would be up for six months of the year during the winter months and taken down in the warmer months.

Each had its pros and cons in the way of costs, both to construct and to maintain.

But the HSF proposal went even further, thanks to Musson Brothers offer of donating the equivalent of between 350 and 700 truck loads of fill dirt for the area between the high school and Mike Webster Stadium. This would raise the area up and improve the drainage, allowing for the placement of two softball fields in the area, utilizing the new concession stand/restroom facility at the stadium.

Heck said that donation is contingent on the district doing the work this summer while Musson is moving dirt in conjunction with the Stevens Street reconstruction project.

The committee also recommended that Mike Webster Stadium's field be replaced with astroturf. He said the work to widen the field to enable soccer to be played in the stadium caused two problems. The first is the field still has drainage concerns and the increased use in the wet spring this year has led to increased wear and tear on the surface. Both have led to soccer being played in front of the high school, much to the disappointment of players and their parents, Heck said.

Heck stressed donors are willing to contribute to the campaign, but they want to see what the district is willing to contribute.

"We want to see if this is going to happen, we want to see the investment back, we want to see success, we want to see it all work out," Heck said the donors have told him. "And we do have key discussions with other donors that are pending."

If the school district doesn't do something to address the lack of indoor practice facility space, the district will continue to lose students and state funding due to open enrollment, he added.

Director of business services Marta Kwiatkowski told the board that the $3 million the district budgets for maintenance could contribute $750,000 each of the next two years, and the $340,000 that the district will not be paying in debt service after this year would result in $1,840,000 that could be used for the project. In addition, if the district takes up to $3 million from the general fund, it could be replaced within a couple years.

While several members of the board were hesitant to vote on the overall budget, wanting to see more accurate costs for both the indoor facility and dome and more time to digest the information that came out in the over two-hour meeting, they did approve going ahead with the athletic complex portion of the proposal and returning the stadium to a turf field.

A more detailed account of the sports facilities proposal will appear in a future edition.





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