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East High School exterior

East High School is to see a $2.8 million upgrade and expansion of its fieldhouse starting next year that would create a true "spectator gymnasium" and more than double its capacity from 1,200 to 2,500 people. The plan calls for $1.5 million in public funds, plus a $1 million contribution from an anonymous donor and a $300,000 gift from East High School alumni and other supporters.

East High School is to see a $2.8 million upgrade and expansion of its fieldhouse starting next year aimed at creating what Madison School District planners have called a true “spectator gymnasium” and more than doubling the capacity of the space from 1,200 to 2,500 people.

Under a funding model approved 7-0 by the School Board Monday night, the plan calls for $1.5 million in district funds, plus a $1 million contribution from an anonymous donor and a $300,000 gift from East High School alumni and other supporters. It could open in fall 2019.

“We appreciate the support and are excited about the possibilities that are going to arise … for both the East and the North sides,” East High principal Mike Hernandez told the board during the public comment period Monday.

Board member Nicki Vander Meulen hailed the project’s planned handicapped accessibility improvements and board member TJ Mertz applauded the generosity of donors and the staff work while cautioning board members and budget staff that the planned district contribution represents about 12 percent of the district’s maintenance fund at a time when needed projects abound.

“The maintenance and renovation needs of all our schools are very great and will remain great,” he said. “We should look for ways to match that (gym contribution) and bring money back for the maintenance needs of all our schools.”

Board members also hope the project’s planned public-private funding mix will serve as a model for future facility improvements, perhaps inspiring other donations.

Everyone together

The gym renovation project for the first time would allow the entire East High student body to gather in one place. It also would feature a new multi-use athletic space, concessions area and lobby space in a 2,372-square-foot addition off the northeast corner of the existing fieldhouse building, and a new 342-square-foot entrance-and-exit vestibule off the existing gym’s south corner.

Heavily used over the years for physical education, extra-curricular activities and community youth sports activities throughout the East Side, the fieldhouse was built in 1971 and named for late principal Milt McPike in 2002. And that name would remain, officials said, with no naming rights requested or to be granted in connection with the project.

The nearly 50-year-old fieldhouse also needs extensive upgrades, according to the staff proposal, including better lighting, finishes and light fixtures; locker room and bathroom updates; more bathrooms to match the increased capacity; controlled entrances; and upgraded seating, flooring and equipment.

The contribution to the project from district funds would be paid in nearly equal installments over three budget cycles, from 2017-18 through 2019-20, staff said. The district’s share also cannot exceed $1.5 million or 55 percent of the project, whichever is less.

“Over the long term, the nearly 50 percent cost savings on this project will free up maintenance dollars for other projects, while providing an asset which is essential to East High School and and the East Side community,” according to the district proposal for the project.

The board gave conceptual approval to the plan in early February. The timeline calls for design and bidding of the project in June, with construction to start in January 2019.

  • In other business, the board approved an additional 400 hours, or up to a total of $117,000, for the service contract of JB Public Safety Consulting, the one-person company owned by Joe Balles, the district’s security chief, under a 10-month contract for services that started Sept. 1 and is to end June 30.

The board’s vote adds up to $29,000 to the value of the contract, which originally was structured to total no more than $88,000, with Ballas paid as an independent contractor at $73 an hour, with no benefits, for what was expected to be about 30 hours a week over the period.

Instead, Balles has been working about 40 hours a week, chief of staff Kelly Ruppel said, due to “higher than anticipated” hours for a variety of reasons, including his working closely with the committee studying whether and how the district should continue employing Madison police officers in the four main high schools.

Balles also has been attending citywide collaborative meetings for the district concerning Madison safety concerns such as shooting trends in the fall and increased car thefts in the winter, and Balles also is busier than expected due to the district’s own increased work on school safety and security after the high school mass shooting in Florida in February.

The board also voted 7-0 to allow the district to seek a waiver from the state to conduct a random lottery to determine enrollment for the district’s dual language immersion charter school Nuestro Mundo that first categorizes students into two groups: native English speakers and native Spanish speakers. This results in a roughly 50-50 representation of English and Spanish speakers as students that district and school officials and parents believe provides the best learning environment for the program.

The district has always used a random lottery in this manner to fill the school’s enrollment when applicants exceed the number of seats available, as required by state and federal law for charter schools. But the state Department of Public Instruction has decided the district’s lottery process is not truly random because of the pre-grouping, requiring the district to seek a waiver this year.

The board also approved playground expansions and equipment upgrades for three elementary schools in projects totaling $171,460: $73,524 for Muir Elementary, $49,625 for Falk Elementary and $48,311 for Lindbergh Elementary.

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Karen Rivedal is the education beat reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.