School district moves forward with solar field plans

Board to hold special meeting May 24 for residents to make final decision on lease for We Energies project
Ozaukee Press Staff

The Grafton School District is moving forward with plans to install a solar field at Zaun Field in the Town of Grafton after the Town Plan Commission tabled action on a conditional-use permit for the project earlier this month. 

During Monday’s School Board meeting, members unanimously agreed to hold a special meeting May 24 for residents to consider a lease with We Energies. Any lease of school district land must be approved at a meeting of the electorate. 

The board will also ask residents to approve amending a lease with the North Shore United Soccer Club, which uses the field. The Grafton Gladiators youth football program also uses Zaun Field. 

“We do have the potential to enter into a lease with We Energies if we were to approve this Solar Now project that would generate $900,000 over the course of 30 years without raising any taxes,” Director of Business Services Topher Adams told the board.

“The other option would be to do nothing.”

On April 7, the Plan Commission tabled action on a conditional-use permit for the project that was presented by the district. Last year, the commission previously nixed a nearly identical proposal that was presented by SolarVest Now, a We Energies contractor.

Supt. Jeff Nelson said the project would generate $900,000 in revenue over the next 30 years for the district, which has been experiencing declining enrollment.  

“We want the best use of land for our taxpayers,” he said. 

During the public comment portion of the meeting, residents offered diverse opinions. 

“I applaud this administration and board for listening to what was told to you repeatedly in 2016 and 2017 by this community,” Casey Didier said, referring to referendums the district proposed to voters.

“Now, those who are freaking out need to realize that not only has this question been asked of this community twice, but as you as a board were told to get creative with your fundraising efforts, and this offer seems to fit the bill.”

Resident Tricia Voss disagreed.

“Knowing that a board would just vote for something based on money is hard for me to understand,” she said.

“We’re going to take green space away from Grafton when there is not much green space out there. I understand there are two sides to everything, but I hope you think about that.”

Officials said two fields on the south portion of Zaun Field are used for soccer and one of the two smaller fields on the north portion is used by the Grafton Gladiators. The solar farm would reduce the sports field by 155,000 square feet.

Nelson said additional space is available at the field to accommodate youth sports programs and other district property can be used as well, including green space at Kennedy Elementary School and at the high school. However, those spaces are pegged for future use by other sports and school programs. 

Didier and other residents said the soccer club and youth football program pay $1 per month to rent Zaun Field and asked the board to increase the rent.

“I think it’s ridiculous to say that we should rent out land for $1 per year to private and very profitable clubs who are willing to pay when no alternative is offered to the district. Other clubs pay a heck of a lot more to use (district) facilities, and all should be treated the same,” Didier said.

Officials said they would charge the clubs more money if they were to play on other district property. 

“Even though they are paying $1, they are keeping up those fields, so they are paying more than $1,” Nelson said.

Adams said another option for the district is to sell the land, which has been assessed at approximately $350,000. 

“It would be one-time revenue. Of course, we would not own the land and it would no longer be available for youth sports,” he said.

Neighboring residents previously questioned whether the project would become an eyesore and lower their property values. School officials said they are working with Stantec, the town’s engineering firm, to get feedback and recommend a landscaping plan that will be brought to the Town Plan Commission at district expense. 

School Board President Paul Lorge said he understands the project is controversial, but it is in the best interest of the district and taxpayers.

“This is a difficult project to look at in totality,” Lorge said.

“I have said before that to some degree, we’ve got underperforming assets here and, of course, any space where the kids play is a high-performing asset.

“In this case, as funding becomes more scarce and as the referendum encroached on existing green space, changes have to be made and better utilization has to be considered.”



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Ozaukee Press

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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