23.06 October/November 2011

A Community Comes Together

Even by the standards of do-it-yourself projects, the Woodward-Granger High School track facility is a standout. It's a prime example of a school that used local resources to get a job done, and a community that came together to make it happen.

By Mary Helen Sprecher

The Woodward, Iowa-based facility includes a 400-meter all-weather rubberized track encircling a natural turf football field, with field events, restrooms, concessions, seating for home and visiting fans, a press box, parking for cars and buses, and more. What was even more impressive was the way it started: as an outdated facility too dangerous for students to use.

One night, track team parent Jim Uthe was watching his daughter compete at another high school. After seeing the track at that school, "We all agreed that, 'If they can have something like this, why can't we?'" he said.

And so began the Hawk Stadium Project, a two and a half year odyssey that would involve not only the 750-student school located northwest of Des Moines, but its entire community as well.

"They really were a school that made things happen," says Sam Fisher, President of Fisher Tracks in Boone, Iowa. "They had a lot of community involvement, and they really pulled together."

As word of the impending project spread, Uthe spearheaded meetings and worked with community and district leaders to clear bureaucratic hurdles. A Web site (wgstadium.webs.com) was established to help keep everyone updated on progress. Grades of students in school challenged each other to raise funds. Engraved bricks were sold so that donors would have a lasting record of their contribution. Local companies donated funds, as did alumni and others. In-kind donations from the community came pouring in. A local steel contractor supplied all the drainage. A sod vendor donated $30,000 worth of material to surface the field. And that wasn't all.

"We had guys coming in with trucks and tractors and backhoes, and people who donated their services," says Uthe. "One guy even said, 'I'll help even if I have to walk the football field and pick up rocks before they sod it.' "

The Woodward Academy, a neighboring school that serves troubled youth, asked to be a partner in the project with the goal of having its students use the facility as well. "We drew up a 10-year agreement, and they came up with $250,000," said Uthe.

Although the towns of Woodward and Granger lacked a large corporation with discretionary funds, smaller companies came up big. "We had places like Casey's General Store give $1,000," Uthe says. "There really wasn't one big company to step in and say, 'Here, we'll help you out.'"

Everything was a fundraising opportunity--even hurdles could be purchased with a donation. As design and construction unfolded, Uthe says he felt some jitters. Significant changes were needed on the existing site.

"Unlike many facilities that are just torn out and upgraded," says Fisher, "this one was torn out and turned 90 degrees, requiring a complete re-grade and elevation change. The new track encroached on property not owned by the school."

Through negotiation and some in-kind donation, the additional acreage became the property of the school. That didn't negate Uthe's worry, though.

"It was very, very nerve-wracking," he laughs. "Especially when we tore out the field and made a parking lot and repositioned everything. I was thinking, 'Oh, God, I hope this works.'"

The estimated cost of the project was $1 million. However, once in-kind donations, including materials and labor, were counted in, the tab came to $750,000. "It was a great example of people working together," says Fisher.

In April 2011, the facility opened for track and field use, and was warmly welcomed by students, the community, and parents--including Uthe.

"It was just 100 percent a community effort," he says. "This whole project is just very close to my heart."

Mary Helen Sprecher is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association. She is also the managing editor of Sports Destination Management Magazine and a contributor to various publications in the sports and fitness industry.

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All photos courtesy of Fisher Tracks, Inc. (Boone, Iowa)


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