Because of differing locations, settings and circumstances, the Eau Claire school district’s two high schools can never be the same, school board President Joe Luginbill said Monday.
But Luginbill said he and fellow board members and community members should focus on how they can maintain a high standard that can be upheld at both high schools as they prepare to vote on April 1 whether the district will fund half of a $2.4 million athletic field at Memorial High School.
“It’s really important that we talk about maintaining a high level of quality at both of the high schools,” Luginbill said. “As we saw in the presentation (Monday) night, the facilities and accommodations available are very different between the two high schools because of a variety of factors. That will remain the case — they will never be carbon copies of one another.”
The proposal, first brought before the board in January, calls for the district to match a group of Eau Claire residents’ donation of $1.2 million toward improvements, including: installing artificial turf on the site of the Memorial track, resurfacing the track, upgrading other track and field areas, installing new lights and a scoreboard and constructing a new entrance and storage building.
At the school board’s meeting Monday night, Kim Koller, district executive director of administration, and Abby Johnson, district executive director of business services, presented updated information to the board that included an athletic facility comparison between Memorial and North.
According to the presentation, North has received three athletic facilities upgrades that were fully funded through community donations. Those projects include: a rubberized training hallway, a hockey training area and team dugouts.
The hockey training area and team dugouts, Johnson said, were completed within the last three years. She was not sure when the rubberized hallway was completed.
Johnson said Memorial currently does not have comparable facilities to those, nor has it previously received upgrades through community donations.
Molly Green, the board’s student representative from North, asked what cost the projects were donated at for comparison.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Johnson said she had not yet researched the matter.
“We’re going to try to get (the board) as much information as we can by Friday,” Johnson said Tuesday afternoon.
The high schools have further discrepancies, according to Monday’s presentation. North’s weight room is 3,880 feet while Memorial’s is 2,897. While North has a pool viewing area and a baseball field, Memorial has neither. North has three softball fields while Memorial has one. In addition, Memorial has four fields, forcing teams to have to share fields, while North has six.
Koller said Monday that many of the amenities North has received in terms of athletic facilities hasn’t been intentional, but rather a matter of having the space. While Memorial sits on a total of 37.15 acres and has about 14.79 acres of green space, North has 47.03 total acres and has 19.69 acres of green space.
“I think the setting of the school makes it easier for one to have some features and makes it harder for the other to have some features,” Koller told the board.
Luginbill said Eau Claire has a unique situation in comparison to other districts in the area because it has two high schools to think of when making these upgrades.
“They have one high school that they can funnel all their resources and energy to,” Luginbill said, referencing athletic complex projects currently in the works at the Altoona and Durand-Arkansaw school districts. “When you have two that have ongoing needs, that colors this entire process. That’s something that people should keep in mind, and that’s why this is an emotional topic for some.”
The presentation on Monday also outlined the district’s options for funding its half required for the proposal to come to fruition. The district could sell the naming rights and advertising spots throughout the stadium to raise necessary funds without digging into the district’s budget. Or, the board could consider re-prioritizing the district’s five-year capital plan or taking out a loan.
Board member Laurie Klinkhammer questioned what would happen if the board approved a plan to raise the money through advertising and naming rights, but they didn’t come up with the money. Johnson said, in that case, the board would go back to the other ideas mentioned.
Luginbill asked whether the proposed improvements at Memorial were ever included as a priority in a recent five-year capital plan.
Koller said they were not, but that the district’s list of capital priorities is constantly in flux.
“We may think something is a priority, but then something else may happen that creates a different priority for us,” Koller said. “We have a long running list and a shorter list of commitments.”
Still, Luginbill said Tuesday he believes it’s important to consider what the board had previously included on its capital plan, and juggle that with the further information that will be provided to the board before the vote on April 1.
“We just need to process the facts and have more discussions and meetings to get as much information as we can so we can make an informed decision,” Luginbill said, “whatever that decision may be.”