The Weyauwega-Fremont Booster Club has raised $400,000 for a new fitness center and is asking the School Board to decide at its next meeting whether the district will match that amount.
“The Booster Club’s offer is contingent on a final decision being made whether to accept or decline this offer on or before the July 22 School Board meeting. If the offer is declined or a decision is not reached on or before the July 22 date, the Booster Club is planning on revoking the proposal and returning the funds that have been raised,” Booster Club President Tim Cullen said during the Monday, July 8 meeting of the school board.
More than 40 people stood as he said the board asked to see a physical representation of those who are in favor of building an addition to the high school for a fitness center.
Current and past W-F students, parents, teachers, booster club members and district residents stood as Cullen presented his proposal to the board.
He said the booster club raised $341,000 and received an equipment donation valued at $59,000 to meet the $400,000 goal.
The $341,000 includes a $130,000 loan through First National Bank.
“It was not an easy decision by the Booster Club to do that. It was quite amazing what First National was willing to do for us,” Cullen told the County Post after being asked about the loan.
The Booster Club continues to fundraise for the project, which is how it would pay off the loan.
First National Bank is also among the donors to the project; it donated $25,000.
Noting some question how much community support there is for the project, Cullen said it is a locally owned bank.
The proposal from the booster club calls for the school district to match the club’s $400,000 in funds to build a facility which reflects the rendering presented last year to the board.
Last November, the board voted to contribute $400,000 toward the project if the booster club raised $400,000 by June 1.
The club did not raise that amount by June 1 and asked the board for an additional six months to raise funds.
When the board met on June 24, it voted to withdraw the motion it made last November, because the $400,000 had not been raised by the deadline. The board told the club to bring a new plan before the board this month.
The club’s proposal is to build an approximately 6,000-square-foot building off the existing locker room, on the east end of the high school.
It would be used by students and also open to the community.
“If the proposal is accepted, the Booster Club and school district will need to make a final written agreement on financial and building guidelines,” Cullen said.
He said the district would be financially responsible for construction cost overruns.
Among the questions during Monday’s board meeting was who determined the value of the equipment which was donated for the project.
That question came from board member Neal Loehrke.
“The Booster Club and donor have an incentive to be high,” he said.
Pat Fee determined the value.
A social studies teacher at W-F High School, Fee has a degree in physical education, has been a strength coach 16 years and has priced out many items for the district in the past, he said.
He told Loehrke the Booster Club is seeking independent appraisals of the equipment.
Cullen told the County Post the equipment is “like new and ready to go into a commercial gym.”
Monday’s discussion also included a question about how the project would be managed.
Board member Dan Kohl said weekly meetings would be necessary and problems will likely pop up. He said it would be time consuming for District Administrator Scott Bleck.
Bleck said there were weekly meetings when the track was renovated.
For district resident Rachel Loehrke, the question was how the district and board choose their priorities.
She asked what would happen if a group came forward saying it was going to raise $400,000 for a new auditorium and wanted the district to match it.
Booster club member Ben Claassen said if a group brought $400,000 to the district for an auditorium, he would hope the district built it.
“I’m definitely for what she stated, too,” he said.
Of the proposed fitness center, Board President Doug Ehrenberg said, “We know something needs to be done at that end of the school. What is there is not acceptable.”
Before Cullen presented the club’s latest proposal to the board, those in attendance saw what type of fitness facilities area high schools have for their students and in some cases, for the community.
Morgan Wilson, who will be a senior this fall at W-F High School, and Kacie Cullen, a W-F graduate, visited Waupaca High School, Iola-Scandinavia’s community fitness center and also the facilities in Manawa and New London.
With the exception of the weight room at Waupaca High School, all the facilities are open to the public.
Claassen said he knows a handful of people who choose to open enroll their children into area school districts because of the facilities the other districts have.
“We may have the best education in the world, but unfortunately, that is not what everyone looks at,” he said. “We may have the best teachers in the world.”
Rachel Loehrke said, “It is intimidating to come here and talk.”
District resident Kurt Duxbury said the value of academics versus athletics has long been an argument. The School Board is elected to make decisions, he said.
The district’s old middle school building on Main Street was again brought up during Monday’s meeting.
“What’s the difference if we paid to build there or here?” Claassen asked.
Mike Hansen teaches science at W-F High School and said, “As a teacher, I believe the board should always put academics first.”
He said in order for the district to get a fitness center such as being proposed, the district needs a partner.
It has a partner in the booster club, and Hansen said the board should thank the club for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in a small community.
Riley Johnson teaches art at the high school and also supports the project.
“For this school to flourish, change has to happen,” he said.
Johnson said in the years ahead, he will be before the board, asking for things for the Art Department, because the department is growing.
Neal Loehrke said all the taxpayers would be paying for something only a few will use.
Donna Allenstein, who is a member of the Weyauwega Common Council, said she recently read an article about why some communities grow and others die.
“The communities that grow are willing to invest,” she said. “It’s tough to measure what comes first – growth or an investment in facilities.”
Neal Loehrke said if there was a pool in the plan, he would support it, because he sees swimming as a lifetime activity for people and a pool as something which needs to be publicly.
Some in attendance laughed, resulting in Loehrke’s wife Rachel again saying it is intimidating to attend the meetings, particularly when people are humiliated.
Speaking to her, Duxbury said, “No one should ever feel like they’re attacked. Keep that in mind in the future. Keep it positive. Make people feel comfortable so people attend.”