Plans for improved sports facilities at Highland High School have received at least preliminary approval from the Highland School Board.
On April 23, the board approved a motion to move forward with planning locker room and public restroom renovations at the high school football stadium. While the board set the cost of the renovations not to exceed $250,000, Superintendent Mike Sutton said the funds have yet to be allocated. The funding for the project will most likely come from operating and maintenance funds, according to Sutton.
Moving forward, Jeff Williams, the district's director of buildings and grounds, said he will begin planning the improvements, which will include, addressing the old wooden lockers, painting, flooring, lighting, HVAC and plumbing. The district's goal is to have the improvements that can be made finished by the start of next school year, according to Sutton.
"We are going to make these locker rooms look almost brand new,” Sutton said.
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In addition to this project, the board also moved gave the OK to pursue a design for a new sports training facility, a project that has been the subject of discussion for several months. However, while the district approved to moving forward with developing a plan, Sutton said the question remains if the dream can still come true.
“You’ve got the potential to make a dream a reality,” Sutton said.
Where did this come from?
Last year, the district began considering upgrades to HHS athletic facilities, including the renovations to the football stadium locker rooms and restrooms.
The list of projects also included upgrading the school's P.E. weight room, which was added with the school in 1979, and the athletic department's current training room, which is currently in a shed on the south side of the football stadium.
Along with revamping these facilities, the board also considered installing a synthetic turf field using funds from advertising pledges. The potential ad money would also have gone to improving the stadium facility and weight rooms.
Shortly after the decision, the board was approached with a proposal for a new conditioning facility, which would create a new weight space, practice room for teams, and extra instruction space for physical education. The project was later added to the board's amended five-year facilities plan as a proposed project for future consideration.
A look at current facilities
Recently, Dr. Chris Becker, the high school's future principal, the varsity football coach Jim Warnecke, and the assistant principal and athletic director Caleb Houchins, came together to create a presentation, which Becker presented to the board at its April meeting.
Among the many problems brought up about the current locker rooms, Becker said the most pressing needs are plumbing, outdated lockers, and poor ventilation, which helps mold, staph, and bacteria to spread when players hang up their gear. Becker also highlighted "inadequate spacing." The locker room has one sink, 10 shower units, two urinals, two stalls, which have no doors, and only 65-70 lockers, though Becker said 85 students can use the space at one time.
As for training areas, Becker said the school's lack of space not only causes problems for the athletics department, but for all students participating in physical education.
“We are the only school in the MVC (Mississippi Valley Conference) with one gym,” Becker said.
Becker said instructors and coaches have to get creative with how space is used.
"We've had a very difficult spring with weather. It's been cold. It's been snowy. When we have cancellations, there is just no place to go," Becker said.
The one gym is shared by 15 P.E. classes, according to Becker, and at times, has to be used by baseball, wrestling, girls and boys basketball, softball, soccer and other sports at all team levels.
"There are times when we have a softball and baseball cage going on one side of the balcony, a basketball practice with two or three teams on the gym floor, and you have a wrestling practice on the other side of the balcony," Becker said.
As for the P.E. weight room, Becker said the room is used sparingly for class, because most of the equipment is either aging, rusted or broken. At this point, he said the room is mostly used for storage. As a result, Becker said the school has no advanced P.E. or conditioning P.E. class. But, if the school has a new facility, he said it would give the school an option to restore those courses.
Becker highlighted the school's sports conditioning area. It used to be housed in old Jakel Manufacturing building, now the district's administrative office, located at 400 Broadway. However, when the district had its budget crisis, the facility was moved to a shed on the south side of the stadium. Though the room has space, it has no air-conditioning during the summer and poor ventilation, which damages equipment, officials said.
“We got some barbells, and in six months, they have turned to rust,” Warnecke said.
Becker also said when the conditioning room moved, other storage space was lost. Now, four classrooms and the backside of the HHS Kennel have to be used for storage.
Finally, Becker compared Highland's facilities to other schools in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
"Some of them look like a college concept," he said.
Becker ended his presentation by comparing Highland's $225 athletic fee to the other conference schools, which range from $55 to $100.
"You’ll see that we feel there is a need to add some of this to our current district," Becker said.
Sutton said a 10,000-square-foot training facility project would roughly cost about $1 million.
After Becker's presentation, Sutton gave an explanation of how funding the project could go. While the district has about $5 million in working cash, Sutton said recommended not using funds that would compete with education dollars, or deplete from the district's savings.
"This year, we are barely going to have a balanced budget. Next year, we may not have a balanced budget, because we keep taking on weight,” Sutton said.
Sutton said there were several scenarios, between shifting money from various funds to seeking alternative revenue bonds, that could help pay for the project.
However, board member Rene Friedel said that, if the project is to be completed, it will need to rely on the help of the community and local businesses.
"I feel like the community has to help us with this," Friedel said.
What board members said
Board members unanimously agreed that the locker room and stadium restroom renovations were a priority.
Sutton said the current facilities, which are estimated to be built before the school in 1970, are not acceptable for students or guests.
"Which is, quite frankly, embarrassing," Sutton said.
However, some of the board members were split on moving forward with the training facility.
All board members voiced concerns over other educational areas that need attention, but the most outspoken members were Robert Miller and David Raymond. In the past, the pair has argued for the district to reinvest in vocational trades programming.
"We are in a curriculum deficit," Miller said.
At one point, Raymond addressed some of the attending students in the crowd.
"I may seem sarcastic to you guys, and I’m going to apologize for my statement in advance. But how many of you football players plan on playing pro ball? How many of you, in reality, are going to swing a hammer?” Raymond asked.
Various parents and meeting attendees spoke up in response to the board members comments.
“We’re not asking you to do anything special. We’re asking you to do what any other school in this whole conference would do — that’s all,” said Brian Farmer, a football parent.
Dena Kruse, a member of the school's football boosters, said the community has done its job by raising funds, providing buses and equipment, and paying high athletic fees.
"We are doing our part, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for answers when you are paying three times another district's fee,” Kruse said.
Former football coach Jim Warnecke Sr. said that improving the facilities could only help the district, especially at a time when enrollment is decreasing.
“People are going to move to Highland for what we have. But they aren’t going to move here for what we don’t have,” Warnecke Sr. said.
The consensus of the attending parents was that they wanted to district to explore if the updates could be made a reality. After a two-hour discussion, they got their wish.
Miller was the lone vote against the resolution.
As for now, Sutton said the district will meet with its architect to get the ball rolling.
"We hope to be ready to make some decisions about the direction of the project in the May meeting," Sutton said.