PWHS field ready for turf as foundation works to ‘reset’

As $900,000 project progresses, nonprofit group looks for new leader, works to raise its share of cost

WITHOUT GRASS, the Port Washington High School football field didn’t look much like a field at all last week. Soon artificial turf will be installed as part of a $900,000 project that is to be finished next month in time for the football season. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press staff

The grass is gone, stripped from Port Washington High School’s football field to make way for a $900,000 synthetic turf field that is to be ready to play on next month.

As that work continues, the nonprofit organization that is supposed to raise $170,000 for the project and millions more for other athletic facility improvements is doing some rebuilding of its own.

“We’ve gone through some challenges,” Tom Ross, acting president of the PWSSD Foundation, told the Port Washington-Saukville School Board last month. “We’re kind of taking a step back and saying, ‘How do we hit the reset button?’

“We want to make sure we improve communication with the board. It wasn’t going the way it should have.”

In addition to refocusing its fundraising efforts, the foundation is searching for a president. Its former leader, Jennifer Clearwater, a professional fundraiser who served as president since the organization’s inception about three years ago, resigned earlier this year after raising concerns about what she said were conflicts of interest that arose from the role School District administrators played on the foundation.

Director of Business Services Jim Froemming is a voting foundation director and Supt. Michael Weber and School Board President Brenda Fritsch are ex-officio members who do not have voting power.

Frictions came to a head in April when it was announced that Acuity, the Sheboygan insurance company that district officials had long been negotiating with, inked a $425,000 sponsorship deal not with the Port-Saukville School District but with Grafton.

Currently, the PWSSD Foundation has secured about $75,000 in donations, Ross said Monday.

“The issue isn’t who’s at fault but how we can get better at what we’re doing,” he told the board.

Money for outdoor athletic facilities was not included in the $49.4 million referendum in 2015 in part because a survey of residents showed tepid support for the athletic field expenditures. But with the improvements still seen as needed, the district and PWSSD Foundation finalized plans last year for an $8 million overhaul of Port High’s outdoor facilities that in addition to a new football field are to include an eight-lane running track, new home bleachers and a press box. The plan also calls for  artificial turf baseball fields and related improvements, as well as a new concession stand and restrooms between the two fields, which would remain in essentially their present configuration west of the school.

Initially, the improvements were to be funded by donations rather than public money, but to jump-start the project the School Board earmarked $730,000 in proceeds from the sale of land for the football field project.

Then, with the foundation not able to pay the remaining $170,000, the School Board authorized the district to draw from its fund balance to cover the remaining cost if needed.

Ross said the foundation remains committed to raising the $170,000, then continuing efforts to secure donations for the remaining $7 million in projects.

“We have people out there who have made some commitments,” he said. “We’re working with plenty of (potential) donors. There’s a lot of moving parts.”

School Board member Aaron Paulin said, “Unfortunately, it sounds like a long process.”

Weber, however, said it’s important to remember the foundation is still in its infancy.

“We’re going to get there,” he said. “It’s just those early infancy stages that are challenging.”

An AstroTurf football field is seen as a priority to improve safety and make the field, which had been essentially reserved for football games to protect the grass, more usable.

The new field will be lined for football but can be temporarily striped for soccer and lacrosse. Port High soccer teams play on the Jack and Shirli Flack Field at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, but at times when the grass field is too wet, games could be moved to the football field, administrators said.  

The football field will be smaller than a regulation soccer field but meet the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association minimum size requirement.

With its new durable, all-weather surface, the field will also be used by phy-ed classes, administrators said.

“Our kids deserve this (synthetic turf field),” Weber told the board in April. “Every time you get a heavy rain and you have a football game, it’s dangerous.

“Look all around us and you see school districts are putting in artificial turf for the safety of their kids.”

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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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