Franklin — The school district committed $2.4 million to the Saber Stadium Project on Feb. 26 to ensure that the project will be ready for the next football season.
The Saber Stadium Project, a group of 16 parents, began its campaign to raise money for a massive renovation of Franklin High School's stadium last August.
Planned stadium improvements include a new, synthetic turf field, an eight-lane competition track and a video scoreboard.
After multiple financial estimates, the group concluded the renovation would cost about $2.3 million.
As of last week, the parents had raised more than $880,000, including financial commitments from community members and businesses.
Asking for help
Concerned that the project would not meet its goal in time to complete the stadium for the next school year, parents asked the School Board for financial assistance at a meeting Jan. 22.
"Donations the last several weeks have tapered off," said Dave Bartels, committee chairman for the project, during last week's meeting. "I think everybody is sitting, holding their breath, saying 'What's going to happen (with the project)?' I think the second you start moving dirt, you'll see a new interest from people."
The project was supported by a room full of parents, graduates and staff members, including head football coach Louis Brown.
"We can all agree the outdoor facilities need some work," Brown said. "In my 21 years (of coaching at Franklin), that's all I've known. ... Space is the main issue, and it's sad that, in the past, we've had to move some events ... because of the size of the venue.
"Our kids have never complained about the facilities we have ... but it's time to give them something they can be proud of."
Project supporters noted the current stadium's close proximity to a wetland that makes maintenance burdensome and produces slippery conditions that could cause athletes to become injured.
Funding the project
Superintendent Steve Patz strongly recommended granting the $2.4 million to the project, emphasizing the well-known need for improvements.
"The outdoor facilities are not up to par with what they should be," Patz said.
In the school district's long-term master plan, officials had mapped out improvements to the outdoor facilities already, he said.
And the district can finally afford it, he said. The money would be pulled from the district's fund balance, which must be used for capital campaign projects.
In turn, the project committee will continue its fundraising campaign to refund some of the money.
"We do have the ability to make this work," Patz said. "It would not have worked, however, if people like Dave (Bartels), didn't come forward and get the community involved to come up with about half of this project."
The board unanimously voted to commit the $2.4 million toward the stadium project.
"I think this is a great example of what's possible when the community and the district work together," board member Melissa Klein said. "Every single one of our students in the district will benefit from this at some point in their school careers.
"If people had not planned these sorts of things in the past, we wouldn't have what we have now, so I think it's our turn to pay it forward."
"I'm extremely happy that we were able to work together with the School Board to make this project a reality," Bartels said.
The board's vice president, Tim Nielson, encouraged the roomful of parents to continue their commitment to the project by going before Franklin's Common Council for help.
Impact fees, charged to new developments to pay for off-site infrastructure, have become a sore spot for the district after the Common Council recently upheld its decision to require about $100,000 in fees for the high school's new academic space and auditorium.
Construction for the new stadium will begin as soon as possible, Patz said.
■ For more information about the project, visit SaberStadiumProject.com.
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