Fundraising OK’d for proposed Bulldog stadium

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A rendering shows how a new stadium would be oriented relative to Whitefish High School’s current track.

The dream of a Bulldogs sports stadium moved closer to reality last week, as the Whitefish School Board unanimously approved a request to begin fundraising for the facility.

Joe Akey, president of the Bulldog Booster Club, presented to the board during its Jan. 8 meeting. The complex, which is hoped to be planned and funded by 2020, and would be located east of Whitefish High School is expected to include a turf field, new 10-lane track, a remodeled wrestling facility and seating for about 3,500 spectators, he said.

The estimated price tag for the project sits at about $6 million, he said. The stadium grandstands would be the biggest portion of that figure at $2.5 million, and the track and turf would each run about $1 million.

“Hopefully that’s with a nice added contingency, in that if we can get it done under that then it can go back to the education foundation and they can put that into the classrooms,” Akey said.

The stadium would be housed where the current track is, but oriented to face north and south rather than east and west.

All outdoor Bulldogs sports would get to enjoy the facility, Akey said, and that’s part of the main drive behind the proposal.

“The vision is that we stop having things all over town. That we’re not out at Smith Fields and we’re not renting things from the Twins and we’re not in the gym until June 2, before we can get out onto the track,” he said. “The idea is to get everybody to one place.”

Currently Whitefish sports are split in terms of venues. The football team practices in the field inside the track, but plays games inside of the Glacier Twins’ Memorial Field, owned by the city of Whitefish. Soccer practices and plays out at Smith Fields, maintained by Project Whitefish Kids, and the track and wrestling facilities are both in need of repair, Akey said. In addition, cheerleaders also lack their own place to practice.

“They don’t really have a dedicated space. They get to practice where someone’s not,” Akey said.

This scattered approach to Bulldog sports has its costs.

The district currently spends $10,000 annually to use the field from the Twins, which includes sub-leasing and maintenance costs, and pays $2,500 a year to use Smith Fields facilities.

Trustee Katie Clarke said she likes the idea, but wondered how maintenance costs for the facility would be handled.

The area where the proposed stadium would go already sees maintenance costs, including watering, mowing and work on the track, WHS Activities Director Aric Harris said. The planned artificial turf itself has its own maintenance process, but shouldn’t need replacing for about 20 years.

“You’re looking at about $3,500 to $5,500 a year just to come in and re-compact [the turf] and sanitize it. It just goes through an annual process, Ronan has a turf and they walked me through it,” he said.

Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt also noted additional revenue could be generated through a voted building reserve levy for the long-term maintenance of facilities.

Another way costs related to the facility could be offset is by generating revenue, Akey explained, which could come from selling ad space to local businesses and hosting various events.

“If we had a facility of this nature we could attract area and statewide playoff finals — whether those are a state track meet or if other football teams want to come play their playoffs here — those are going to generate revenue in that bit of a shoulder season for Whitefish,” he said. “That could be really good for area businesses and for hotels, and we have all the amenities that we would need to support all of those things.”

Akey added he also sees potential for hosting college football spring game scrimmages or even an NFL Play 60 event, an in-school nutrition and physical activity program launched by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League.

Teachers and members of the public showed their support for the stadium during the school board meeting.

Kelliann Blackburn, a WHS English teacher and track coach, said she’d love to see Bulldogs sports all gather within the high school campus.

“I think it’s time to bring our kids home,” she said. “We have state of the art facilities all around there, and then when we hold our big [Akey, Rosenburg and Murphy] track meet, we have Porta-Potties lined up. I think it’s time to raise the bar for our situation at the track.”

Lin Akey, who helped bring the current track to WHS, said the project is a great opportunity for Bulldogs athletics.

“Obviously athletics are a big part of a well rounded education,” he said. “You live in a community that’s remarkably committed to philanthropic partnering, we’ve done so much with the schools already. I think you have a great opportunity to do that again and I think this a great idea.”

During the meeting the topic of last fall’s Class A boys soccer state title match came up repeatedly, with comments about how hundreds of spectators were forced to stand and watch the Bulldogs play, as well as remarks about the state of the bathrooms at Smith Fields.

John Lacey, head coach of that Bulldogs soccer team, said he sees this as an opportunity to support the student athletes that fill WHS.

“I love the idea of another rallying point that’s close to the school. We’re doing this for the students. The love being able to do this with their community behind them, and the feel it tremendously,” he said. “And whether it’s the noise and the walk-up, or the actual game experience, just sharing that stuff with their classmates and their community I think is great. This without question will expand every student athlete’s experience.”

With the board’s approval, fundraising will begin for the stadium. Different possible funding mechanisms include state and federal grants pertaining to schools and energy and resource conservation, as well as petitioning the generosity of Whitefish’s philanthropic community through the Whitefish Community Foundation.

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