Board aims to jump-start athletic field project

Officials consider breaking $8 million Port High plan into more phases, using $725,000 to spur fundraising

A RENDERING created by Point of Beginning shows the Port Washington High School athletic fields in much the same orientation as they currently are but with artificial turf football and baseball fields, an eight-lane running track around the football field, new home-side bleachers and a concession stand between the fields. The improvements are part of a proposed $8 million overhaul of the school’s outdoor facilities that would be paid for primarily with money raised by the PWSSD Foundation.
Ozaukee Press staff

Hoping to jump-start fundraising for an $8 million overhaul of Port Washington High School’s outdoor athletic facilities, a Port Washington-Saukville School Board committee last week recommended breaking the project into multiple phases.

The board is scheduled to consider the recommendation from the Building and Grounds Committee next month and perhaps decide whether to invest $725,000 in proceeds from the sale of district land earlier this year in the project, which includes artificial turf football and baseball fields.

Other than that potential investment of public funds, money for the project is to be raised by the recently formed PWSSD Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to benefit the district. 

The project was initially divided into two large phases, but without deep-pocket donors lining up to pay for the improvements, the district and Point of Beginning Inc., the Stevens Point engineering and landscape architecture firm that is designing the improvements, have devised the way to break the project into smaller phases. The hope is that will allow work to begin on at least one aspect of the project, which in turn will inspire more donations.

“Once we get started, I think we will generate more interest,” Supt. Michael Weber told the committee. “Right now, there’s nothing going on.”

School Board President Brenda Fritsch, who is a member of the PWSSD Foundation, said, “We’ve had people (potential donators) say, ‘Come back to me when you’re ready to get started.’”

One way to jump-start the project, school officials said, would be to invest the $725,000 the district was paid for 54 acres of farmland on Port Washington’s west side — purchased in 1969 as the site for a future school that ultimately wasn’t needed — in the project. But the school board has tread cautiously when it comes to investing this money in athletics, with some members questioning whether the funds should instead be spent on school building improvements or academic initiatives not funded as part of the $49.4 million referendum approved in 2015.

Board members voted 7-1 in July to earmark the money for the athletic facilities project but said that if they didn’t see sufficient fundraising progress they may decide to reallocate the money so as not to invest public money in a project that may not be completed.

“If after a year the foundation has $1 million, then we’re very close” to the $2.2 million needed for what was at the time the first phase of the project, board member Brian McCutcheon, chairman of the Building and Grounds Committee, said in July. “But if they have only $200,000, then we’d have to rethink this.”

Weber said last week that the foundation has a $100,000 pledge from a potential donor who wants to remain anonymous for now and about $5,000 in donations.

But with the project broken into smaller phases, the thinking of some school officials has changed and the idea of using the  land sale proceeds to make an up-front investment in the athletic field improvements to boost fundraising appears more palatable.

“Now we may want to use that money to get this project going. I’m fine with that, but I don’t want the project to stop,” McCutcheon said last week, noting that if the district invests public money in the project, it’s important that it be completed with money raised by the foundation. “If it did stop, we could take a hit publicly.”

Weber noted that the $725,000 in land-sale proceeds and the $100,000 pledge to the foundation — a total of $825,000 — would come close to covering the $875,000 cost of a synthetic turf football field.

“When we were looking at this project in two phases, the $725,000 would have made a dent but it wouldn’t have been enough to make it happen,” Weber said. “But now we’ve reshaped the plan so the project is more attainable and (artificial) turf on the football field, which has been our priority, is very doable.

“The thought is once we get this started, it will let potential donors know this is a real project that has life to it.”

But board member Aaron Paulin, who voted against earmarking district money for the athletic field project in July, said last week he still has reservations.

“It’s a big commitment,” he said. “I’m for the project, but I feel like I need more information.

“Do we have a lot of support to use this money for athletics or do people want it spent in other ways?”

The project calls for an overhaul of the high school’s outdoor athletic facilities immediately west of the school, funding for which was not included in the soon-to-be completed $45.6 million Port High project. That project, approved as part of the 2015 referendum, focused solely on academic building improvements.

In addition to a synthetic turf football field, the first phase of the project would include new home-side bleachers and a press box.

Synthetic turf baseball fields, which collectively are being referred to as a multipurpose field because they would have uses beyond baseball, would also be part of the first phase.

These projects total $3.87 million.

Committee members said a new eight-lane running track around the football field to replace one that is too small to host invitational, regional and sectional track and field meets should also be a priority.

Also included in the projects are improvements for the multipurpose field such as lights, dugouts, bleachers, a bullpen and press box.

In addition, the plan calls for a new concession stand and restrooms between the football and multipurpose fields, a maintenance building and plaza.

Synthetic turf fields, school officials said, would decrease maintenance costs, provide a safer playing surface during inclement weather and open the school’s fields to uses other than just football and baseball — everything from phy-ed classes to community events.


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