When the athletics directors at Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant schools look at their sports fields, the wish lists start forming.
Center Grove athletics director Jon Zwitt wants to upgrade the baseball facility, which was last renovated 25 to 30 years ago. Ideally, Center Grove would have a single building that houses a ticket booth, restrooms and concessions, Zwitt said.
At Whiteland Community High School, athletics director Ken Sears is trying to find ways to afford adding bleachers to the visitors side of the football stadium. For the last year and-a-half, Sears also has thought about adding more locker room space for football players, expanding the high school’s track and adding artificial turf to the football field.
Adding lanes to Whiteland’s seven-lane track would mean the high school could host invitationals and conference meets, and replacing the football field’s grass with artificial turf would let sports teams, the marching band and gym classes use the field without damaging the surface.
The problem is, those renovations could easily cost $1.5 million, and Clark-Pleasant doesn’t have the money.
“We’re kind of in a holding pattern,” Sears said. “Donations haven’t come in like we’ve hoped.”
In the past two and a half years, both Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant have added to their athletics facilities, most recently with new changing rooms for soccer and softball players at Center Grove and seats for Whiteland football fans.
Funding for some of the projects came from the school districts. Center Grove paid more than $400,000 for the soccer and softball changing rooms, which the softball team will use for the first time this spring. The money came from refinancing a bond that paid for Maple Grove Elementary School.
But as schools’ budgets tighten, more money for athletic upgrades will likely have to come from individual and corporate donors, the athletic directors said.
“Overall it’s becoming a necessity,” Clark-Pleasant superintendent Patrick Spray said.
Short end of the stick
Clark-Pleasant and Franklin schools have less money for upgrades, repairs and renovations to athletic fields and schools because of property tax caps, which limit the amount of property tax dollars the school districts collect. When Whiteland officials have to decide which buildings to update and which projects to delay, repairs to sports facilities are typically the first put off, Spray said.
After Sears created his plan to renovate Whiteland’s sports facilities, donations in exchange for name recognition started coming in, and he received enough to build pole barns for Whiteland’s soccer, baseball and softball teams.
The school district opted to use about $141,000 from a 2011 advertising agreement with Johnson Memorial Hospital and Community Health Network to pay for about 700 new bleacher seats on the home side of the football stadium, and in June Sears received a $100,000 contribution to help pay for between 700 and 1,000 visitors side seats.
Still, Sears needs another $50,000 to $60,000 before the visitors side seats can be purchased. He doesn’t know when Whiteland can afford to upgrade the track and purchase the artificial turf. He just knows it won’t be anytime soon.
Sears knows Clark-Pleasant doesn’t have the money to spend more than $1 million on the sports fields, and he doesn’t have as much time to knock on potential donors’ doors.
“We’re a long way from ever even thinking about that,” he said.
Center Grove decided to add the $412,990 changing facilities so its athletes had somewhere to take cover during severe weather, and so they wouldn’t have to change clothes in nearby parking lots, Zwitt said.
Zwitt isn’t sure what upgrading the baseball facilities at the high school would cost, though it would be ideal if the money could be found without adding to tax bills, he said.
High schools are having to turn more to individual and corporate donors to fund their programs and pay for improvements to their facilities, though that trend is still relatively early. And it’s not as common for high schools to receive corporate sponsorships as it is for colleges’ athletic programs, Zwitt said.
Center Grove hasn’t had a problem attracting corporate donors.
In 2011 auto dealer Ray Skillman pledged more than $1 million to cover the cost of students’ athletic fees for 10 years, and Johnson Memorial Hospital and Community Health Network pledged $200,000 to the school district to help cover the cost of adding bleachers at the football stadium.
Center Grove’s contract with the two hospitals was terminated last year after the school district agreed to a $650,000, 10-year advertising agreement with Indiana University Health, giving the IU hospitals exclusive advertising rights. About half of that money paid for new artificial turf at the football stadium.
By that point, Johnson Memorial Hospital and Community Health Network had paid $62,500 in exchange for hanging a banner across the football stadium bleachers through part of 2014. In May, the hospitals reached an agreement with Center Grove and were refunded $30,000 of their contribution, Johnson Memorial Hospital president Larry Heydon said.
“It ended as good as it could,” Heydon said.