Hodag Schools Foundation presents options for facility improvements
Construction of a dome or field house-type facility discussed at special school board meeting
By Eileen Persike
The Hodag Schools Foundation (HSF) presented options to the Rhinelander school board Tuesday night for indoor and outdoor facility improvements on district property.
HSF president David Heck told the board and the dozens of community members in attendance that in the months since Dr. Lee Swank’s $500,000 donation toward the construction of indoor facilities was announced, HSF and School District of Rhinelander representatives have done extensive facility research and have also secured an additional $700,000 in private funding.
The foundation is recommending the board construct either an indoor dome, which would cover Mike Webster Stadium, or a field house-type indoor facility that would be adjacent to the high school. Both facilities would allow for hosting multiple practices, some at the same time, including track, football, soccer, marching band, as well as be available for community use. There is also the potential for renting out the space and hosting tournaments.
The outdoor facility improvements are on a stricter timeline since the proposal involves Musson Bros. construction company giving the district hundreds of dump truck loads of dirt taken from the Stevens Street construction area to fill in low areas in the practice fields west of the football stadium.
“They would dump the dirt and spread it around to make it a viable spot for outdoor usage now. Now. Timing is right now for that,” Heck said. “We wait, the dirt goes away, they don’t have it. Timing is right now for that outdoor usage.”
Heck said the city and school district could work together to move the softball fields from Pioneer Park to that newly graded area. A second part of the outdoor plan is to place artificial turf on the field at Webster Stadium. He said though SDR and HSF have put some $300,000 into the field in recent years, the condition of the field was never what was expected due in large part to the climate.
Before presenting the options, Heck spent time going over the project background and the reasons updated facilities are needed, beyond the facts that the district does not have adequate activity space to accommodate student practices and that very few improvements and no additional building space has been added to Rhinelander High School since it was built in 1958.
Ashland, Eagle River, Wausau and Minocqua all have more indoor facility space than Rhinelander, and Marshfield, Shawano and Crandon just announce multi-million dollar construction projects. Indoor facilities, Heck said, help students and the community be physically active year-round; there are numerous links, he noted, between physical activity and better academics, improved cognitive skills and increased performance on exams, as well as being an antidote to some mental health conditions. The lack of facilities, Heck said, has also cost the district real money. In the last five years, 672 Rhinelander students open-enrolled out of the district, compared to 257 students who enrolled which adds up to a $5.2 million revenue loss.
“That $5.2 million could have been used to create and built a facility that meets all the needs we are discussing today,” Heck said. “What’s the solution? How do we compete better against our neighbors, how do we do better for our kids, how do we do better for our community?”
The HSF team researching indoor facility options traveled to schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin to gather data and talk with school officials.
“These schools said, ‘We have to do this to compete,’” Heck said. “These are schools that already have huge indoor facilities, dedicated space. They said, ‘We need this above and beyond…if we don’t do this we’ll lose kids, and we’re not going to attract kids,’ and we see these trends happening right now.”
And, in talking to different businesses in town, Heck noted, as they are trying to bring families or spouses to Rhinelander, it comes up repeatedly that “we don’t have facilities like [other schools] and it’s a detractor.”
In addition to the $1.2 million dollars raised by HSF and dedicated to the indoor facility, district business director Marta Kwiatkowski told the board that $750,000 of the district’s $3 million maintenance budget can be dedicated for each of the next two years toward the project and $340,000 debt service falls off this year, making $1,840,000 available; $2.5-$3 million dollars from the fund balance can also be dedicated to the indoor facility.
At the end of the meeting, the board approved several motions involving the facility projects. Motions to work with Musson Bros. to have fill dumped and graded in the practice field area near Mike Webster Stadium; a motion to firm up quotes for both an indoor field house-type facility and a dome; and a motion to seek a design and bid on artificial turf in Webster stadium to be installed this summer all passed unanimously. A motion asking the school board to agree to set aside $1.2 million to match the money raised by HSF in effort to keep the project moving forward, failed 5-3. The board’s next meeting is set for June 10 at 6 p.m.
Dimensions: 94,000 sq feet
Cost: $1.4-$1.7 million
Annual cost: $250,000-$300,000
Flexibility: Multiple events/practices/tournaments/community access can take place at the same time. Can only be up six months per year. Annual cost involves professionals putting up and taking down the dome.
Indoor facility (adjacent to high school)
Dimensions: 40,000-53,000 sq feet
Cost: $5.5-$6.2 million
Annual cost: $50,000-$60,000
Flexibility: Community access/multiple practices/permanent site/physical education/band/gathering space/weddings
- Musson Brothers donation of dirt equivalent to 350-700 dump truck loads for summer 2019
- Pioneer Park will have more space and destination development, such as pickle ball, tennis, museum additions
- Concession/bathroom usage
- Provide practice, games, tournaments and community events on school property
- Artificial turf on field will help provide more usage for community and activities due to climate and field problems