Booster club members are ready to make the first major donation toward a new $8 million athletic complex for Highland Schools.
On Monday, the Highland Athletic Boosters Club will present a check for $225,000 to Superintendent Catherine Aukerman at a groundbreaking for the new stadium in Granger Township.
“It represents a lot of parents and kids who sold a lot of popcorn and pop over the last few years,” club Treasurer Jim Florian said.
The new stadium, which will include artificial turf, a separate series of tennis courts and additional parking lots adjacent to the high school, is expected to cost up to $8 million.
School officials hope to have work completed by summer 2015 so fall sports can use the facility next school year.
The project will be financed over 20 years using money from sales tax revenue and donations.
When the school board unveiled the project last year, members said they hoped significant money could be raised through private donations to ease the burden on taxpayers.
The district receives about $1 million in revenue annually from the 0.5-percent sales tax earmarked for school capital projects approved by voters in May 2007. The school board agreed to set aside up to $400,000 of the sales tax money each year to fund the stadium.
School officials also are discussing the possibility of asking voters to approve a new levy to provide funding for updates or replacements for the three elementary schools and middle school in the district. All the schools are more than 50 years old, and the oldest school — Sharon Elementary — was built in 1922.
At a meeting in July, Aukerman announced the formation of a committee comprised of community members, teachers and parents to review the district’s options for repairs or construction of new school buildings.
“If we renovate or replace the buildings, a bond issue would be necessary,” Aukerman said at the July meeting.
A decision on what buildings might be renovated or replaced has not been made, but at least a handful of residents in the district say they are concerned so much money is being spent on a new stadium when there are needs for new school buildings.
“I’m not anti-sports, but I think they should have put the money towards the school buildings,” said Tom Loefler, who lives in Granger Township.
Loefler acknowledged a bond issue would be needed to pay for replacing school buildings, but said the money going to the stadium could be used to reduce the amount Highland would have to request from taxpayers.
“I just think it’s more important to use the sales tax money to educate kids,” he said. “Who are we trying to impress with this stadium?”
School officials say the original stadium, built in 1959 with a capacity of little more than 1,000 fans, is inadequate because it doesn’t provide enough parking. Shuttles ferry fans from school lots to the field. The grass field also makes for muddy play in the fall and early winter when it’s used by both the soccer and football teams.
Booster club officials, mostly parents whose children participate in sports, said they’re doing everything to keep costs to the district down.
Florian said the club makes money with the help of local volunteers and students. They sell spirit wear, banners that hang in the stadium and memberships that allow unlimited access to school sporting events.
“Our memberships have really been selling, especially the past few years because our sports programs are doing so well,” he said.
The booster club decided to make its donation as the school kicks off a “major donation campaign” next week at the groundbreaking.
Club President Curtis Mall said the club doesn’t have a separate capital fund but has been setting aside money for the last two years hoping to see stadium plans move forward.
“We knew the school would be looking for private funds and we thought it was a good chance to kick-start that campaign,” Mall said.
Joe Kohmann, who is president of the newly formed Highland Athletic Facilities Association, will lead the group in securing major donations for the stadium.
“Our goal is to raise $3 million for the school, including the naming rights of the stadium,” he said. “We hope to raise about $1 million by July.”
For parents and students involved in sports, seeing dirt being moved on the lot next to the high school is cause for excitement.
Talk of a new stadium has been underway since the new high school was built in 2004. At the time, the district set aside the land with plans to build the stadium in the future.
Florian said he’s excited that a project that once seemed far away is finally happening.
“It’s not just the football field. It’s for the band kids, the soccer kids, the track, it’s for everyone,” he said. “The concession stand is going to be fantastic and so are the locker rooms.”
Florian said he estimates the increased capacity of new concessions and opportunities for the school to hold tournaments at the new stadium could increase booster concession sales by about 50 percent. He also said it gives the students a stadium they can be proud of.
“We’re just thrilled,” he said.
“It’s good to see our district progressing,” he said. “We have good academic programs and now we have a really good athletic program.”