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Whitnall fields a troublesome athletic topic

Report recommends upgrades for deteriorated facilities

Nov. 9, 2010

Hales Corners — A new football stadium and track are part of some $7 million in recommended improvements for Whitnall High School.

A report unveiled Monday on those improvements will likely to spark spirited discussions within the Whitnall community.

Under the plan, the football stadium would be moved slightly west, with artificial turf installed and new bleachers, a press box, field lighting, a scoreboard, a sound system and security fencing.

A new eight-lane track would also be installed. Whitnall has not hosted a track meet since 2000 because of the track's poor condition.

The report also recommends relocating the baseball and softball fields and renovating the tennis courts and student parking lots.

Exercising financial discretion

The project's total cost is estimated between $7 million and $8 million.

All financing options are on the table, including using the district's reserve fund, private naming rights, bonds and private donations.

Officials acknowledged that today's economic climate isn't ideal for unveiling the proposal, but also noted benefits such as low construction costs and favorable interest rates.

"This is a major undertaking in times that some people would say are economically troubled," School Board member Bernard Shaw said.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the proposal in January.

Studying the problems

Shaw was one of several members of a committee which spent months studying the high school athletic facilities, which officials say suffer from a variety of maladies beyond age.

The committee formed in February, derived from parent forum discussions about updating Whitnall High School athletic facilities. The group included residents, faculty members and school administrators.

At the heart of their study were water problems.

Farmland surrounded Whitnall High School when it was built in 1960. Now, as the school district celebrates its 50-year anniversary, development is all around it and has been a major contributor to water problems.

Standing water is often seen outside the school gym, on practice and athletic fields and near the tennis courts. The high school building itself has also dealt with water problems that are getting progressively worse, said Matt Karshna, the district's building and grounds supervisor.

Fixing those stormwater issues is seen as one of the biggest keys to the project and would cost an estimated $1 million alone.

In the next two months, board and committee members and other school officials will present the plan to the community to get input while the district's Finance Committee explores funding options.

If approved, the project would be implemented over two summers and be mostly completed by August 2012. The football field would be finished in December of that year.

An academic question?

In what could be a preview of the discussions to come, board member Stephanie Richter said she was concerned about spending that much money on athletic facilities while neglecting academic issues.

"My concern is maybe more of a philosophical question - are we looking to build a reputation for being a WIAA host, or are we looking for a reputation of being student-athlete driven?" she said, referencing the new facilities' ability to host WIAA events.

"Not to say that those two are mutually exclusive, but I also wonder what that may say about our focus."

Committee members said the project is about more than Whitnall sports teams.

A new complex will benefit all students and the entire community, members said. It will allow the school hold outdoor physical education activities, for example, and will be available for community groups and organizations.

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