Donors, staff, school board celebrate Rhinelander Dome
By Eileen Persike
What started with the largest private donation to the Hodag Schools Foundation (HSF) in 2018, was celebrated today as a game-changing addition to the School District of Rhinelander and the community.
Retired physician Dr. Lee Swank pledged $500,000 to a project that would allow Rhinelander athletes to practice indoors
during inclement weather, which could hamper practices in early spring and late fall. HSF president David Heck picked up the fundraising baton and ran with it to the finish line, securing nearly $3 million in donations from alumni, area businesses and individuals.
“Every donor that we talked to had the same objective and same mission and that was to help Rhinelander students, help the Rhinelander community and see Rhinelander thrive,” Heck told the crowd gathered Feb. 1 for a ribbon cutting ceremony.
In June 2019, the school board approved using $5.7 million dollars from the district’s fund balance to help pay for the facility. The total cost of the dome was in the neighborhood of $8.3 million.
In early 2019 a group of interested individuals began researching and scouting facilities; the school board approved plans and hired engineering and construction firms along the way. Ground was broken for the Hodag Dome and sports complex in April 2020. That was before Superintendent Eric Burke joined the district; in fact it was a year ago this week that Burke interviewed for the job.
“At that time, the dome wasn’t finalized or approved yet,” Burke said. “I couldn’t envision what this was going to be…Now to see it in person, it’s quite amazing.
“Coming from someone who is not from Rhinelander, seeing this, this is something that’s really going to be a game-changer for our schools, our community.”
Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lauren Sackett said the dome will allow her office to pursue additional forms of tourism.
“We have the ability now to tap into a lot of the different types of sports marketing and grant opportunities through the Department of Tourism that we didn’t have before just because of a facility like this,” Sackett said. “We’ve heard lots of conversation from college teams and other communities interested in using the space so I think it’s going to end up being a really big draw – not just for locals but for visitors as well.”
The dome provides 128,000 square feet of space indoors for tennis, pickleball, basketball, softball, soccer and the like. The improvements outdoors which include two softball diamonds next to the dome, and a junior varsity baseball diamond across the street from Rhinelander High School add another 200,000 square feet. The Hodag Dome is one of four domes in Wisconsin and is the largest air-supported dome in the nation.
Dome manager Janet Jamison said there will be community walking hours, times when the turf is available “for people to kick a ball or play catch with their kids,” community events and other activities in coming months.
“Bottom line, we set high, audacious goals, we worked together, and dreams can become reality which is absolutely key for today, so history is being made in present times,” Heck concluded. “This is a great day for Rhinelander.”
For more information on the Hodag Dome, visit the School District of Rhinelander website.