Plan to charge school facility fees prompts club concerns

PW-S official says ‘nominal fees’ will help pay for upkeep but youth groups worry about maintaining affordable programs

New facilities, like Port Washington High School's spacious, arena-style gym, cost more to maintain and have prompted the Port Washington-Saukville School District to consider charging nonprofit community groups who use them after the school day. Press file photo
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Washington-Saukville School District intends to begin charging local organizations to use its facilities for everything from practices in gyms and on fields to programs in its performing arts center and school cafeterias.

The fees would allow the district to recoup some of the costs of keeping facilities open after school hours and maintaining them — a cost that has risen with the completion of larger facilities at Port Washington High School like its arena-style gym.

But the fees would be a departure from the district’s tradition of not charging local nonprofit organizations to use school facilities in most instances, one that some club officials said will tax nonprofit groups with already thin margins that strive to offer affordable activities for children and serve as feeder programs for high school athletic teams.

“Charging us for practice space is definitely not ideal,” Joe Eernisse, president of Port Hoops Basketball Club, said. 

The reality, he said, is that organizations would have to pass the facility use fees it pays the district to the families that participate in their programs.

“If you have children in multiple sports, these facility use fees could become real burdens,” Eernisse said. “It could come down to kids being able to play only one sport or none at all because families can no longer afford them.

“We’re trying to work with the district to come up with something that works for everybody.”

Jim Froemming, the district’s director of business services, said the fees would help the district maintain its facilities, particularly its new ones, and achieve its goal of controlling property taxes levied to provide community access to buildings and fields. By charging fees, those who use the facilities would directly pay the costs associated with making them available to the community instead of having taxpayers foot the bill.

“We’re looking at charging minimal or nominal fees to keep our facilities in great shape,” he said. “As a society, we’re seeing a shift to user fees.”

The district is considering fees that would range from $20 to $30 per hour, depending on the facility being used. For instance, the fee for using the new high school gym would be $30 per hour while the fee for using an elementary school gym would be $20 an hour.

There would also be fees for using district fields, Froemming said, although that may be adjusted because fields are less expensive to maintain than gyms that have to be lit and cleaned.

Froemming briefed the School Board’s Building and Grounds Committee on the fee proposal last month and plans to deliver a proposal to the board in late June or early July. He is in the process of talking with leaders of organizations that use school facilities.

“As with everything that has the potential for change, this has resulted in a lot of questions,” Froemming said. 

School District facilities are heavily used, and fees would affect a number of organizations, including the Port Washington Piranha Youth Wrestling Club, Buccaneers youth football program, Port Youth Baseball and Softball and Port Washington Soccer Club, as well as Port Hoops. Organizations like 4-H clubs and Scout troops also use school facilities occasionally.

Chad Brakke, the head coach for the Piranhas, which uses the high school wrestling room, said the club’s philosophy is to make wrestling financially accessible to all children. The organization charges a fee of $50 per season for children in kindergarten through fourth grade and $100 to $150 for children in fifth through eighth grade.

“We’ve tried hard to make wrestling affordable because we realize there are families who struggle financially,” Brakke, who is principal of Saukville Elementary School, said. 

Facility fees would undoubtedly force the club to raise its fees or cut practice time, or do both, he said. But, Brakke added, he understands that maintaining facilities comes at a cost.

“I get it. Having nice facilities means you have to pay custodians to clean and maintain them,” he said. “We have very nice facilities. We’re fortunate.”

Eernisse said the fees could have a significant impact on Port Hoops, whose 12 teams practice in school gyms, leaving the club with no other option than to increase the $315 fee it charges players. 

“We have one of the lowest fees around, but that may have to change,” he said. 

The concern, Eernisse said, is that increased fees could result in decreased participation. And because Port Hoops, like other youth athletic programs, is a feeder program, that could affect high school sports, he said.

“Our job is not only to teach players the skills they need for high school basketball but to give the high school the number of players it needs for a strong program,” Eernisse said.

Froemming, who noted other school districts charge facility use fees, said he realizes that youth sport organizations train the athletes who go on to play at the high school. The district, he said, has an interest in supporting them as well as other organizations that provide constructive activities for children. 

“We’re trying to come up with something that is reasonable with the understanding that we want to support these programs while knowing that our new facilities require additional staffing to keep them looking great,” he said.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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