Rhinelander school board opts for a dome
Vote receives applause from audience
By Eileen Persike
After two hours of presentations, questions, answers and expressed opinions, the School District of Rhinelander Board of Education voted unanimously to move ahead with the construction of a permanent air-supported dome facility. Two manufacturers, Yeadon Fabric Domes, LLC and Miron Construction addressed the board Monday night.
Gregg Nelson, Yeadon’s vice president of sales and marketing, told the board that permanent fabric domes are a growing trend as engineering and technology improves. His estimate for completion of a 91,200 square foot dome would be $2.6 million. The initial plans show the dome to be constructed next to Mike Webster Stadium, in the area currently used as football practice fields. Time frame for the project was estimated at four months.
Miron Construction, working with Blue Design Group, emphasized design and construction considerations that would favor a steel constructed facility. A 47,000 square foot indoor practice facility connected to Rhinelander High School in the back would come in at an estimated $6.9 million and 12 months of construction.
Rhinelander High School softball coach DJ DeMeyer told the board this is the biggest thing that’s happened in town in at least 46 years.
“This is a game changer for this town,” DeMeyer said. “I’ve talked to a lot of coaches in the last couple weeks just for softball. I was up in Eagle River for a tournament with my daughter over the weekend. That’s all they’re talking about. This is huge… I hate to put this all on your shoulders, but this is a game changer for this town.”
Brian Gaber, Rhinelander Schools Foundation member and parent, said he supports the larger facility to get kids home from practice earlier. Currently, he said, some students are practicing until 10 at night.
“With the 50,000 square foot facility, we’re looking at nine o’clock, with the 91 or 110,000 square foot facility, we’re talking about six o’clock,” Gaber said. “So as we’re talking about…all the planning we need to consider for facility use, that’s just a given. That square [footage] puts our kids back home at six at night in the spring.”
Activities director Brian Paulson told the board he is sold on the dome, not only for increased practice and competition space but because of how it could help the local economy.
“With the area around us, we’re able to bring teams here, that brings people into our hotels, brings people to our gas stations and brings people to our businesses for food.”
Mike Roberts made the motion which included directing the administration to “create a request for the hire of an architectural/engineering firm to act as the district’s representative to provide design, bidding and construction services for the construction of a dome facility. The design will include outdoor facilities for two softball fields, practice fields and the redesign of the baseball field as necessary.”
Roberts said it was important to move ahead, and to do it the right way.
“We have $6.9 million…we can take care of the softball fields and the practice fields…complete the whole Hodag athletics facility and be done with it and be under the $6.9 million that’s been allocated between private donations and what the board allocated at the last meeting,” he said. “I think this is the best way to move forward and we’ll come out of it with an actual bid for construction.”
Judy Conlin said after gathering more information, she saw the need for a dome facility.
“Especially with our spring sports, we need to have a facility not just for practice but so that we can have tennis meets we can have soccer games, we can have the softball games that right now have to be rescheduled,” Conlin said. “The larger space allows us to accommodate those. The bonus will be if we get community use beyond that, but I’ve heard two very distinct school needs, being both practice and the ability to have real competitive events for our high school teams.”
One thing that is missing with the dome that would be workable with a brick and mortar structure is being connected to the school, but board members indicated that the larger space at a lower cost the dome provides is worth the trade off.
“For me it’s a matter of cost,” said board member Ann Munninghoff Eshelman.”When I look at $2.6 million for 91,000 square feet as opposed to $7 million for 50,000 square feet – that’s a huge difference. At this cost difference, I think I would be remiss not to support the dome.”
“This is our only shot at this,” board member Duane Frey said. “And I’m just speaking personally, but I think size is critical, and if we do something we do it to match what our community needs as well as school,” and not downsize and regret it later.
The Capital Projects Ad Hoc Committee will interview potential firms to serve as the district’s representative, and then may make a recommendation to the full board. In addition, the motion also directed administrators to set up a fund for future maintenance of the dome. After an engineer is hired, the jobs will be put out to bid. At a meeting June 10, the board approved using $5.7 million from the district’s fund balance to help pay for the facility, in addition to the more than $1 million dollars donated to the Hodag Facilities Foundation for the structure.