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New elementary school complex or new football stadium for Norwalk?

Cary Ashby • Updated Mar 24, 2017 at 12:20 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first part of a four-part series about the possibility of a new stadium in Norwalk.

 

A 22-acre field across from Norwalk High School on Shady Lane could be the site of a new elementary school complex or a new football stadium.

The land, owned by Norwalk City Schools, is not large enough to hold both, however.

Construction of a new school complex or a stadium have been topics of discussion over the years.

 

Football stadium

During a school board meeting in February, it was suggested to have the athletic boosters raise the money for a stadium and then upon completion, essentially give it to the district.

The boosters would need approval from the board to seek donations from citizens and businesses, Norwalk High School Principal Brad Cooley said.

“I think any time our community is having a discussion is a good thing,” Superintendent George Fisk said.

Having the boosters seek donors has been one of the discussions at board meetings, the superintendent added. Fisk stressed the need for the district to have a strategic plan.

“We just need to look at the long-term plan on how we’re going to provide the best environment for our kids,” he said. “From my perspective, we have to go to the voters with academic needs.”

Tasked by board president Kevin Cashen with creating a long-term planning committee, Fisk said the first step is identifying a facilitator, who needs to help the members stay focused since “there are so many topics to talk about” and figure out what members of the Norwalk community need to be represented.

“You can spend so much time going off on tangents,” the superintendent added. “Any time we have community members (involved), it’s a positive.”

Fisk said the discussion of a possible stadium can and should lead to talking about the district facilities.

 

School complex

A topic, supported by former board member Ralph Ritzenthaler, is having one school building to house the elementary grades. The proposed site is the 40-acre field across from NHS. The district owns more than 22 acres while Huron County owns the rest.

School administrators said the 22 acres will hold either a stadium or school building — but not both. Cooley said an elementary school building would be “far more efficient and better for our kids.”

“That would support one of the two,” the NHS principal added. “You couldn’t do both.”

When asked about a new school building in a separate interview, Fisk said the district is in the beginning stages of discussing the possibility with the state. The superintendent said presently, the state would pay for 70 percent while the Norwalk district and/‚Äčor community would need to come up with the remaining money.

“That (percentage) changes based on the economics of the district,” he explained.

 

‘Everything on campus’

Cooley can remember the discussion of a new stadium dating back to at least 2004.

When the NHS students moved into the school in 2002, Cooley said it created excitement for what was possible in the community. He also said the new building “vastly improved” the culture and changed the landscape for students who had been in the previous building.

“Facilities aren’t everything, but it’s important to having a successful program,” he said.

The idea of Norwalk having a new stadium was the main topic during the February school board meeting.

Steve Traczek, president of the Norwalk Athletic Boosters, has said a new facility has “been a long time coming.”

When NHS hosts athletic events, Cooley said the district receives high grades for its facilities with the exception of the track and football field at Whitney Field. The principal quickly added that in an ideal world it’s most convenient for students to have everything on the same campus.

“That’s the final page for us on the (NHS) campus. There’s no doubt about it,” Cooley said. “That’s the best-case scenario. … There’s nothing better than having everything on your campus.”

 

Shared stadium

The district owns Whitney Field, which is used by the football and track teams from NHS and St. Paul High School.

“We have a great relationship (between) both schools,” said St. Paul athletic director John Livengood, who noted those positive work relationships dates back to several NHS athletic directors.

Livengood said Norwalk and St. Paul have worked hand in hand since 1985 to improve various portions of Whitney Field.

Norwalk Catholic School President Dennis Doughty agreed.

“Norwalk City Schools and St. Paul have worked together for many years to enhance Whitney Field. Recent examples include: the football lights, resurfaced track, new roof on the field house, new drainage, irrigation and sod on the football field and the large parking area (western lot), where drainage and grindings were added. More projects for Whitney Field are being planned,” said Doughty, who was the Norwalk superintendent for five years and a former St. Paul athletic director.

 

Not for voters

Fisk, like Cooley, said it’s not a smart idea to make a stadium project something for the voters to decide. The administrators said it’s best to have the public vote on district topics that impact the academic focus of the district.

“I’m only going to the voters to talk about school things,” Cooley said.

Administrators at Norwalk and St. Paul agree that discussing a new stadium is complicated.

“The decision regarding a new possible stadium is extremely complex, especially when developing a new site. I believe we can work together to make Whitney Field a tremendous place to watch a football game or track meet. Multiple steps have been taken to update the facility and, if the next steps can be followed through, it will be one of the better stadiums around. I believe the playing area is already one of the best,” Doughty said.

“It’s time to have this discussion. What do we want Norwalk City Schools to look like in 15 years?” Fisk added.

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