For years, whenever boosters sought funding for improvements — whether it be for athletics or fine arts — they got the same firm answer:
Not until the BC(2) stadium debt is paid.
That all changed this week when the Elmbrook School Board voted 6-1 to help fund construction of a new baseball stadium at Central, with private donations paying for two-thirds of the estimated $500,000 stadium and the district paying the rest.
A new parent group, Central 4Ward, will not have to pay off the remaining $121,000 football stadium debt before the baseball one is built.
But not one penny of Elmbrook funds will be spent on the baseball stadium until Central 4Ward's raises its two-thirds total and the money is in the district's coffers.
And the BC(2) debt will be paid along the way, starting with a $40,000 check that Central 4Ward members gave the School Board Tuesday night, cutting the $121,000 owed to $81,000. (Of the $40,000 donated, the Junior Lancer football program donated $25,000 and the Brookfield Central Booster Club, $15,000.)
Build it and (donations) will come
For those at home keeping score or perhaps new to the district, BC(2) or Building Community at Brookfield Central was a volunteer fundraising group that pledged in 2006 to raise half the $827,000 cost to build an artificial turf multipurpose stadium for football, track, soccer and the marching band.
As explained in a Coach and Athletic Director magazine story titled "Shared Facility Funding: Field of Broken Promises," Brookfield Central's state-of-the-art stadium was built in breakneck speed, just six months after approval and with the district fronting the full $827,000 cost. Private fundraising was supposed to fund half that cost, replenishing the district's tapped reserves by June 2008.
But in May 2008, BC(2) still owed $152,076 of its $413,500 equal share.
Flash forward to 2012 and Tuesday's Elmbrook School Board meeting. Board member Meg Wartman, who has been on the board since 2003 and voted for the football stadium project, recalled that private donations struggled as Central went through three athletic directors and students graduated.
"It's difficult to look for repayment for something that's already there," Wartman said Tuesday, "until you could spark some energy in the community again."
New group, new energy
Central 4Ward says it has ignited that spark, organizing a new group of backers who are excited, deeply committed and geared up to raise $335,000 by May 25.
There is a major donor in the wings — the family of a varsity baseball athlete, who is prepared to fund a large part of the private share, to have the stadium available in spring 2013. Construction would occur this summer, slow down to move out of the way for fall sports and finish in time for spring / summer baseball next year.
The group presented a four-phase plan that also proposes in future years building a concessions/restroom facility, resurfacing the tennis courts, and replacing press boxes and bleachers by 2016 or 2017.
Board member Dick Brunner cast the sole vote against the baseball stadium, saying the full football debt should be repaid first.
"The school district is not a bank," he said. "I have a queasy feeling in my stomach, I don't like this. It's not the way to do business."
But other board members said they were swayed to approve by numerous factors:
- Many of these sports upgrades will be needed in the future and without private help, will be fully on the backs of district taxpayers.
- The district will fund 33 percent of the total cost, less than the 50 percent pledged for previous partnerships.
- No district funds will be spent until all private funds are raised.
- The group pledged to pay off the stadium debt by 2016.
- Central's athletic facilities are not equitable with the district's other high school, Brookfield East.
Joining the majority in approval were Wartman and Jean Lambert, who are . Their respective election challengers, Lynne Thomas and Paul Byrne, also backed the baseball stadium plan during a March 22 election forum. (See forum video attached)
Sylla: "We made a mistake"
But two residents urged the board to vote no.
One was Cheri Sylla, who was on the board with Wartman and Bob Ziegler in 2006, and said she and her peers should have required the private funds be in the bank before the stadium was built.
"We made a mistake," she said. "The School Board was too generous."
Resident Ross Gulotta said the board shouldn't be allocating $166,000 toward a baseball stadium "after years of cutting academics" and making changes to save money, such as moving to a high school block schedule program.
Elmbrook will also be saving money by closing in June, to the dismay of Hillside families.
"This is not the time to be making an investment like this," Gulotta said, calling it a "need vs. a want."
But Wartman said: "My fear of not supporting this at this time would mean that debt would still linger.
"And in one year from now or two years from now, we are going to have to pay to replace the bleachers on the visitors side of that football field, and if we don't have the partnership that this group is proposing tonight, the district will be full funding that on our own," Wartman said.
Sports part of 'the Elmbrook Experience'
Board members said just as the district pays $150,000 to use the , funding athletics is part of the "Elmbrook experience" sought by families.
Board President Tom Gehl said of academics and athletics/activities: "I'm convinced ... this community in its collective wisdom or folly has said we want a very high level of both, and I think we have a very high level of both."
Board member Glen Allgaier agreed with Gulotta that the facilities were not all needed at this time. But he said the opportunity of a major donation was not something the district should turn away lightly.
Allgaier said a friend from Menlo Park, CA, told him that school district holds an annual fundraiser that raises $5 million. "I see our Elmbrook Education Foundation thrilled to raise $35,000," Allgaier said. "And here's a group (Central 4Ward) that's going to come up with $300,000, which is a big number for this district."
WIAA playoff games
Coaches said the new stadium would improve the school's physical education classes and extend fall programs. It will benefit the Junior Lancer sports programs.
The project will allow the Central baseball team to play at home, rather than an McCoy Field, where conditions are poor in spring. The WIAA is considering moving the summer baseball program to spring, which would mean Central would have to find an alternative to McCoy Field.
Building a new stadium will allow Central to "host premier WIAA playoff games" and allow play time for groups such as the Bulldogs and park and rec programs, said Tom Reuteman, a member of Central 4Ward and president of the Brookfield Central Booster Club.
"Thank you for this opportunity," Reuteman said.
District Share* Private Share* BC(2) Debt Repayment Project time Phase 1: Baseball stadium $166,500 $333,500 $40,000 Spring 2013
Phase 2: Concession / Bathroom Facility $83,250 $166,750 $35,000 Spring 2014
Phase 3: Tennis Resurfacing / Press Box $66,660 $133,340 $30,000 Spring 2016
Phase 4: Visitor Bleacher Replacement / Press Box $33,300 $66,700 $16,000 Spring 2016-17
Totals $349,710 $700,290 $121,000
*Project amounts are estimates; may change based on bids Source: Central 4Ward