Rhinelander dome project moves to design, bidding
By Eileen Persike
The Rhinelander School Board, during a special meeting Monday night, approved the design for the air-supported dome structure that will be built near Webster Stadium next spring. In July the board’s Capital Projects Committee decided to recommend a 240-foot by 500-foot structure, the larger of two concepts provided by the architects hired by the board. The smaller option was taken out of consideration after discussion revealed support for the inclusion of four sports courts that would be available for tennis and pickleball; with the addition of sport court flooring, basketball and volleyball would also use the hard surfaces, as well as gymnastics.
Before the vote to approve the design, member Ann Munninghoff Eshelman questioned whether the board’s “desires are expanding faster than the budget,” and whether a steel structure would be less costly. Committee chair Mike Roberts said for less money, the dome opens up more possibilities for the schools and the community.
“When we look at the cost of an air-supported structure and what can be done in a building that size, we’re still way under the cost of what a brick-and-mortar structure would be,” Roberts said.
In June the board allocated up to $5.7 million of the district’s $21 million fund balance to go toward what will be called the Hodag Sports Complex, and include two softball fields, a football/soccer practice field, additional parking and a possible JV baseball diamond. Additional fundraising by the Hodag Schools Foundation adds another $1.65 million – and possibly more – to the budget, including the initial $500,000 seed money donated by Lee Swank.
“When the community knew we were behind it, I think that precipitated more donations,” board member Duane Frey said. “Now we’re looking at probably the best structure we can build for the money and the community bringing money in. Did they bring the money in so the school district doesn’t have to spend $5.7 million, or did they bring money in so we can have a pretty Cadillac facility for everybody? It’s a good question but I’m guessing the community wants … to build the best facility we can.”
Judy Conlin said she initially support the brick-and-mortar facility, but her thoughts have evolved along with goals for the structure.
“We’ve moved beyond just saying we have practice facility needs to saying if we’re going to build a structure of some type, what are our bigger goals beyond practice,” Conlin said. “It became more important to be able to say, ‘we have so many spring sports that have cancelations all through the spring’…it didn’t make sense to say let’s only look at a practice facility.”
The board received applause from community members in the room following the 7-1 vote in favor of the larger dome. Eshelman voted no.
“On behalf of all of us in this room, [I] congratulate the school board in the entire work effort you people have put in to make the dome project, that I think most people of Rhinelander feel, will be a tremendous success,” said community member Bob Heck.
The construction of the dome is expected to be put out to bid in September, with a goal to have the complex completed by fall 2020.