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

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





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