The Fields of Many Dreams project has been trying to raise funds for artificial turf at Waukesha high schools over the last four years, without a major donor or district funding.
That has now changed.
The fundraising has been an uphill battle, as it costs about $1.5 million to install ProGrass field turf at all three public schools; to date, North, South and West high schools were nowhere near the amount needed — between $500,000 and $575,000 for each school.
Knowing the project could receive a boost from a major donor, veteran Waukesha West football coach Steve Rux came to last week's School Board meeting with a plea.
"Surely we could find some common ground to make this worthwhile project happen this year," Rux said. "I fear if it doesn't, it will fade away."
The project is certainly not fading away. In addition to receiving board approval for district support, it also found the partner that it was so desperately missing in SC Waukesha, a longtime local soccer club.
And if all goes as planned, Rux and his team, along with those at Waukesha South and Waukesha North, could be playing on the brand-new surfaces at the start of next school year.
As part of the agreement, SC Waukesha will pay an annual fee of $50,000 over 10 years with a $100,000 upfront payment. It will skip the second year but then pay $50,000 from the third year to the 10th year. The district is contributing $501,000 through its property sales fund, which holds money for real estate projects. The district has priority for using the fields, but SC Waukesha's proposal notes rental access on weekdays and weekends will be dependent on scheduling.
"None of the funds have come from district tax dollars, and the use of these funds would not impact the general fund and would not reduce funds for our capital improve projects," said School Board Treasurer and Finance and Facilities Committee Chairman Joseph Como.
With the district and the agreement with SC Waukesha, the schools now just have to raise a combined $232,700 by May 1.
"Our athletic directors believe this is a very obtainable goal that our community will support," Como said. "When we were seeking donations, many thought (the $1.6 million original figure) was not obtainable and did not want to commit until there were assurances that the project would come to fruition."
All but new School Board member Kurt O'Bryan voted for the approval.
Since there were amendments made to the original proposals from the March 11 Finance and Facilities Committee meeting, O'Bryan wanted it returned to the committee level. The F&F Committee changed the usage payments for SC Waukesha from $600,000 over 12 years to $580,000 over 10 years. However, after that meeting, the SC Waukesha Board said it was not in a position to support the additional payments — $8,000 annually.
Shan Amini, executive director of soccer operations for SC Waukesha, told the board that it was still willing to move forward with a $500,000 payment over 10 years. Como said at last week's board meeting that to make up the $80,000 difference it will use advertising revenues the fields will generate over the first five years.
"This is completely inappropriate," O'Bryan said. "I'm not saying I don't appreciate the offer, but this is not the way to do it. This is not the right path. We're traveling down a very slippery slope. We have the time to decide if we want to change the terms or not."
Superintendent Todd Gray said time is of the essence as the district put a May 1 deadline on receiving the extra fundraising money from the schools so construction could begin shortly after.
"If we don't act soon, that may put us in a position where it's delayed," Gray said.
Como, who added the project needs to be completed by Aug. 1, agreed with Gray.
"I believe we don't have time," Como said. "I believe the due diligence that SC Waukesha and our administration has done has been extraordinary. If we delay this another month, it's going to slow down the fundraising, where we're possibly not going to get the shovels in the ground."
Advantages of the field turf, the district says, are fewer injuries, lower maintenance costs, less vulnerability to weather, more durability to use for multiple purposes for longer periods of time and more revenue to the district in hosting WIAA events.
Bringing this extra revenue to the district was what School Board member William Baumgart, who said the district has "done our homework" on the project, highlighted.
"Events are worth a lot of revenue," said Baumgart, noting that Kettle Moraine, Arrowhead and Pewaukee all have turf fields. "They will be getting all the events. Just screwing around for another year, we're going to lose a lot of money. We've dillydallied for too long, and it's time to go forward. The mistake is screwing around any longer."
It is moving forward now, and the fact that money was available for the project was appealing to Waukesha School Board member Steve Edlund.
"It's going to be a return on our investment," Edlund said. "So it's not going to cost taxpayers anything. There's upsides every way I see on this. It's not like we're building anybody anything. We're improving something we already have. It's a win-win situation for everyone."
Especially for those who will be using it.
"The thought of having a turf field is exciting to me," Rux said, "but it's more exciting to my players."