Comet Field takes shape
Home football opener set for Aug. 25
By Greg Seubert
Waupaca High School football fans will want to mark Friday, Aug. 25, on their calendar.
Not only will the Waupaca Comets host Shawano for their home opener at 7 p.m. that day, it’ll also be the first game on Comet Field, the team’s new home.
The field, currently under construction next to the school, is replacing Haberkorn Field.
“We do want to make this a special event,” said superintendent Greg Nyen, who is overseeing the project for the Waupaca School District.
“Our target date to have it ready to go or have it or as ready as it possibly can be is Aug. 25,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do between now and then. We’re going to be working feverishly out there over the next couple of weeks to make that timeline. To date, we’re still on track.”
Comet Field, which includes artificial turf, is being built on the site of the soccer field and will serve as the home field for football, boys’ soccer and girls’ soccer teams.
“I can’t say that all of the games – 100 percent – will be played on the artificial turf field because there are likely going to be times when we have conflicts,” Nyen said. “There may be some times when a JV game or a freshman game will be played on one of our natural turf fields. We’re certainly going to try to hold as many games on that beautiful facility as possible.”
Problems at Haberkorn
Concerns about Haberkorn Field, located at Harding and Michigan streets, prompted Nyen and the Waupaca School Board to look into the facility’s future.
“Our insurance carrier came in, did a hazard assessment and identified a number of issues out at Haberkorn that we needed to address,” Nyen said. “Many of those issues had remained unchanged over a period of time. The district and the board felt a certain sense of urgency to take a look at that hazard assessment and put together a plan of remediation. When we began to take a look at our capital funds account, we saw an opportunity to reach out to the community at large and seek assistance in the form of contributions from the community.”
Three major donors – Waupaca Foundry, Farmers State Bank and First National Bank – stepped forward as the district announced a fundraising campaign to raise $1 million for the project.
“We’re coming up on $500,000 now,” Nyen said. “We’ve had a number of private donors step forward and we continue to receive donations every week. That’s really a testament to this community and their support for the district.”
The project has an estimated price tag of $2.3 million.
“We have some capital improvement funds that we had set aside and the change in equity from the previous year’s budget to last year’s budget was on the plus side,” Nyen said. “When we began to look at our budget picture, we saw an opportunity to be able to update and upgrade our athletic facilities without going to the general public seeking support in the form of a referendum.
“That was important to us,” he added. “We wanted to be able to continue to maintain and provide high-quality facilities, but we wanted to do so without increasing the tax base. Through the generosity of a number of large donors in the district, we’ve been able to accomplish that.”
Renovating Haberkorn Field would have cost more than $700,000, according to Nyen.
“The $700,000 that would have been needed to be put into Haberkorn would have done nothing for the field itself,” he said. “That would have just addressed the hazards that had been outlined by our liability carrier.”
Haberkorn Field and the adjacent tennis courts are currently listed through a local real estate company for $200,000. The district is also selling its current district office building on School Street. Those offices are being relocated to the high school.
“The proximity to the river and the golf course may lend itself to somebody who wants to put in multi-family housing units (at the Haberkorn site),” Nyen said. “I think that’s a real possibility. Either of the properties are going to have to be rezoned. The city has indicated they will work with the district and any potential buyer to rezone both of the areas. It’s out there on the market right now and we’re testing the waters.
“We’re planning to sell the Haberkorn facility and the district office to demonstrate to the community that we are good stewards of tax dollars,” he said. “The proceeds from the sale of these assets will go to offset the costs for the remodeling that’s happening out at the high school as well as the new athletic facility out there.”
The district is also planning for the future, as the turf on the new field will need to be replaced down the road.
“Our buildings and grounds staff will be able to maintain the field,” Nyen said. “It’s really a relatively low-maintenance product. However, there’s still a lifespan for artificial turf. We know that somewhere around that 15-year mark, we may need to take out the old turf and bring in new turf.
“We’re aware of that on the front end,” he said. “We know the district office has an annual maintenance and utility cost of about $30,000 a year. By moving into the high school, we’ll be saving that $30,000 a year. If we take that amount and put that into a fund over the course of 10 or 12 years, we will have the resources the district needs to be able to put in a new turf when it’s time.”
Bigger and better
Besides a new football and soccer field, the project’s contractor, Rettler Corp. of Stevens Point, is also resurfacing the track around the field.
“Probably the first thing that people are going to notice is the size of the grandstands,” Nyen said. “It’s going to be about three times the size with bleachers on just the one side. The press box will be an improved facility. The concession area will be part of the bleachers and the rest areas will be much more expanded for men and women.”
The project will also allow the district to showcase some of its community partnerships, Nyen said.
“There will be some recognition areas certainly for our three major donors, but also for a number of community members that have stepped up and donated as well,” he said. “We’re still going to have opportunity to pay homage to Leroy Haberkorn and to some of the other folks who have made some nice donations that have enhanced Haberkorn Field over time. We’ll find a way to give that recognition where it’s due. There’s going to be a nice entrance archway, a new ticket booth and the scoreboard and sound system is going to have state-of-the-art technology. The look and feel of the sporting events is going to be very similar to something you would find at Camp Randall (Stadium). It’s going to be an experience.”
Comet Field will also include an improved drainage system.
“Actually, the drainage is better than natural turf,” Nyen said. “If you do have some wet weather, it’s going to be ready to accept play much quicker than natural turf. In addition to that, extremities and head injuries are less on artificial turf, especially when you have the concussion pad as part of the artificial turf itself. The safety of our student-athletes is greater.”
Schools looking at turf
Waupaca’s varsity football team will play seven of its nine games this season on turf. Besides opening the season Friday, Aug. 18, on a new turf field at Calder Stadium in Menasha, the Comets will also play five games at home and an away game at West De Pere High School.
“It is definitely a trend,” Nyen said. “It’s not like the old artificial turf that we saw introduced during our lifetime when it was really just that indoor/outdoor carpet. It’s come quite a ways since then. I think the price has become more affordable for school districts.
“Also, there’s a fair amount of pride in these communities behind their local athletic teams,” he said. “When people congregate together at an event, they like to really be proud of the facilities and the resources behind their students. That’s probably contributing to the trend of increasing the number of artificial turf fields.”
The Waupaca community will soon see the benefits of a high-quality field, Nyen said.
“What that’s going to mean for a school district that’s right off Highway 10 is it’s going to open up another venue for the WIAA to say, ‘We’re going to schedule some of our games in the central part of the state for these teams,’” he said. “We made sure that when we were putting together the plans for this facility that we were going to meet all of the qualifications or criteria the WIAA had in being able to host some of those opportunities.”
Plans for the home football opener are still in the works and include a tailgate party.
“The district is going to sponsor a tailgate party with burgers, brats, hotdogs, chips, etc., to show its appreciation for all those who have invested labor or resources into the project,” Nyen said.
“We’re trying to decide how we’re going to recognize all of the people that have contributed with either manual labor or resources,” he said. “I would suspect that we’re going to have some sort of event to really recognize and say thank you to all the people who have contributed in one way or another. We want to make it something special.”