Dome or steel facility? $1.2 million in pledges a possible springboard to new indoor sports space in Rhinelander schoolsSubmitted: 05/31/2019
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter

Dome or steel facility?  $1.2 million in pledges a possible springboard to new indoor sports space in Rhinelander schools
RHINELANDER - Dave Heck finds irony in a Rhinelander Daily News clipping from more than 40 years ago.

In 1977, people told the newspaper the city needed an athletic fieldhouse or multipurpose facility.

It hadn't happened since the high school's 1958 opening, and it hasn't happened since in the 42 years since that article.

"What does it mean? It means, ideally, we should have done this a long time ago," Heck said Friday. "We haven't had additional [high school] space since 1958."

Heck's organization, the Hodag Schools Foundation, plans to change that.

This week, it presented plans to use $1.2 million in private pledges, plus district operational and reserve money, to build a major indoor athletic facility on district land.  A half-million of that money comes from a donation from local physician Lee Swank.

The two top plans call for a permanent steel sports center or seasonal dome over the football and soccer field at Mike Webster Stadium, whose grass would be converted to turf.

Either facility would be open to both students and the community.

"We said, 'We have to do something.' We're losing students through open enrollment. It's not helping us attract businesses and families and keeping businesses and families, with our facilities," Heck, the Hodag Schools Foundation President, said.

In the last five years, Rhinelander has lost $5.2 million in state aid as students enroll in other districts. This school year, the district lost a net 107 students to open enrollment.

Heck is confident better athletic spaces would bring them back and bring new students in.

"Give them a place to spend time. Give them a place to exercise. Give them a place to be engaged. Give them a place to be a part of a community," he said.

The steel sports space would have a higher up-front cost, $5.5 to $6.2 million, but less yearly maintenance costs. The seasonal dome would cost $1.4 to $1.7 million but cost a quarter-million dollars a year in maintenance. It would be set up in November and taken down in April.

In either case, the Hodag Schools Foundation is asking the district to chip in millions of dollars in existing fund balance money and dollars from the annual maintenance budget. However, neither option would require a public referendum.

Rhinelander's school board will discuss and likely select an option on June 10.

But immediately, a separate part of the plan calls for building new outdoor softball and practice football fields on campus. Those spaces are often underwater right now.

"[The city of Rhinelander's] Stevens Street project is going on right now. Musson [Brothers] has some dirt available," said activities director Brian Paulson. "They're willing to donate about 250 to 300 dump truck loads to be able to help us bring this up to grade."

The big step of the plan, the dome or steel structure, would help teams now practicing in Rhinelander's gym and hallways. But in pushing for construction, Heck points to studies saying more space and more exercise help academic performance and mental health for all students, too.

Heck said he intends to keep raising private funds and will likely look to secure naming rights for the facility to raise more money.

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Sponsored in part by HodagSports.com


WISCONSIN - Utility crews have restored power to more than 138,000 customers following destructive thunderstorms that struck eastern Wisconsin this weekend.

But WE Energies and Wisconsin Public Service say around 127,000 customers were still without power as of around midday Sunday.

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PICKEREL - The Siebers family spent much of their Sunday scrubbing. The linings of their walk-in freezer were covered in mold.

The Siebers' restaurant, The Northwoods Inn, lost power after the storm Friday night.

"We've been through a lot here," said co-owner Perry Siebers. "We've been here 23 years, but it's tough."

The Siebers had to throw away thousands of dollars' worth of food from their freezer.

"We only had one generator, so enough to run two chest-freezers," said co-owner Kelly Siebers. "For our big walk-in cooler, all the food is pretty much a loss."

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MADISON -  A report shows 11 rural hospitals in Wisconsin stopped routinely delivering babies in the past 10 years.

The Wisconsin Office of Rural Health report shows that the closures were due to the challenge of a low number of both on-call providers and number of deliveries.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports the most recent obstetrics closures were in Grantsburg and Ripon in 2017.

The report, which was released last week, indicates that 56% of the state's rural hospitals perform routine deliveries, compared with 40% of rural hospitals nationally.

The report says nearly 99% of women of child-bearing age in Wisconsin live within a 30-minute drive of a hospital that provides obstetrics.

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DE PERE - St. Norbert Abbey in Wisconsin has released the names of 22 priests who faced "credible" allegations of sexually abusing minors.

The abbey says an independent review deemed more than 40 allegations credible. About half came from the 1960s, and 12 Norbertine priests faced multiple allegations. All but five are dead. Two of the living have left the abbey and ministry; three others are restricted from ministry.

Abbot Dane Radecki says the names were released Friday in the spirit of accountability, but gave few details of the allegations.

The abbey serves St. Norbert College and some schools and parishes around De Pere.

The report came six months after the Green Bay Diocese named 46 priests with credible claims of sexual abuse against them but did not include priests from independent orders.

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PHELPS - An "antique critique" in Phelps Sunday helped people learn the value of their collectables, family heirlooms and thrift store finds with a little help from a familiar face. 

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MADISON - Madison police say they've arrested two teenage girls after a report of shots fired led to a chase and a crash into a squad car.

Officers responded to the shots fired around 12:45 p.m. Saturday. They found nobody injured or any damage, but found a shell casing and evidence that a suspected stolen car that had left the area was connected to the shots.

Police spotted the car about 45 minutes later and began a chase. After crashing into a Madison squad car, the two suspects ran away, leading to a short foot chase before they were arrested.

The 17-year-old and 16-year-old female suspects face charges of eluding a police officer and operating a vehicle without the owner's consent.

Both suspects and two Madison officers were treated for minor injuries.

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MILWAUKEE - Some Wisconsin residents were cleaning up from a round of heavy wind and rain while others braced for more severe weather as storms moved through the state.

As of Saturday afternoon, about 110,000 customers were without power, according to information from Wisconsin Public Service and We Energies. Information from We Energies' website shows the bulk of those " more than 69,000 customers " were in the Green Bay area.

The power outages affected about 6,000 customers in southeastern Wisconsin, including the Milwaukee area, which was under an excessive heat warning until Saturday night. The cities of Milwaukee and Waukesha posted a list of cooling sites online, where residents could go to stay safe in the intense heat.

Meanwhile, residents in western Wisconsin were cleaning up after Friday's storms downed several trees and power lines and damaged buildings.

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