FREEMAN PUBLIC CLOSING IN ONÂ MAJOR PROJECTS
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
No formal action was taken, but the Freeman School Board consented Monday night to move one step closer to what would be two major developments on school grounds.
1. Construction of a new wrestling facility east of the Freeman Elementary gym and west of the bus lane, and,
2. Support for new youth ball fields to be built on the east/northeast portion of school grounds, south of College Street and west of Stadium Drive.
Both discussions took place at the board’s May 10 meeting and included support from the majority of the board as well as incoming board members Emily Andersen and Doug McCune, who were unopposed in their bid for school board and will take office in July.
As presented by CO-OP Architecture of Sioux Falls, which the district has been working with on preliminary plans, the wrestling facility would measure 4,458 square feet and be similar in north/south length to the elementary school basketball court. In addition to one 42-foot square wrestling mat, the facility would be large enough for four additional smaller sections of mat totaling 24 feet, as well as restrooms, a referee room and room for additional storage.
The project would cost an estimated $500,000, said Freeman Superintendent Kevin Kunz, who noted the district has about $2 million in capital outlay cash, including reserves.
“The money is there,” he told the board. “It’s just a matter of if you want to do it.”
CO-OP Architecture would be the supervising contractor and take care of the design, bidding and oversight of the project for 7% of whatever the accepted bid would happen to be. Board member Slade Ammann wondered if that seemed high, to which McCune — who attended Monday’s meeting as a guest — responded that the “going rate” is 6%.
Ammann also wondered why the architect’s blueprint doesn’t take the wrestling facility further north to the sidewalk and match up with the northeast corner of the elementary school gym. That would give it an addition 10 to 12 feet to the north the width of the addition.
“You might as well kick out the building all the way,” said Ammann, who stated his support for the project despite his questions. “I think we’re moving in the right direction; I’m in favor of it.”
Chris Sayler, head wrestling coach for Marion/Freeman who first asked the board to consider building a wrestling facility to support a growing program several months ago, spoke in support of the larger footprint.
“That’s great; that’s two more sections of mat,” said Sayler, who noted that at $250 per square foot, “it’s a drop in the bucket.”
The only other question about the wrestling facility came from board member Mark Miller, who wondered if other schools involved with the cooperative could help cover the cost of the project. Freeman Public has a wrestling partnership with Marion that goes back to 1991 and, much more recently, invites student-wrestlers from Freeman Academy, Canistota and Menno to take part.
“I’d hate for us to be looked at as the ones footing the bill for the whole program and the other ones don’t have to have any share of this,” said Miller. “I think there’s been some concern about that.”
Kunz responded that each school pays a percentage of the expenses for the program, like travel expenses and uniforms.
“Have you ever seen anything to help recoup our costs for a wrestling room that they help pay for the costs in some way?” Miller wondered. “Or is that out of the box?”
“That would be like Canistota having us pay part of the water bill to water their football field,” said Sayler, who noted that the new wrestling facility would establish Freeman as home base for the Marion/Freeman wrestling program. “We’re putting equity into our building. Yeah, it’s five schools and we’re paying for it, but I don’t see how you can ask other schools to pay part of this bill. We’re the most centrally located school and we have the room here; we have the mats and everything is here.”
Both the current board and incoming board members expressed support for the project, but Ammann asked Kunz to look into extending the facility north to the sidewalk and also seeing about a 6% administrative fee from CO-OP Architecture instead of 7%.
The project could go to bid as early as August with construction around the end of the year or early 2022.
The Freeman School Board also consented Monday night to support the formation of a Booster Club that would help oversee the construction of new youth ballfields built on the northeastern/eastern portion of the district’s large campus.
Board members also supported the donation of the land to the Booster Club as well financial support for the development of property as youth ballfields, although no action was taken.
The conversation was driven by Freeman Mayor Michael Walter, who asked the school board to match the city of Freeman’s financial contribution of $150,00 toward the project earlier this year. An estimate of $350,000 for the construction of the fields leaves only $50,000 for the Booster Club to raise, he said.
“The thought process was, the city would throw $150,000 in hoping the school would do the same,” Walter told the school board. “You don’t come to my table and tell me how to do things, and I’m not going to come to your table and tell you.”
However, the mayor said, the project won’t get rolling until the district gets on board, and that includes a formal endorsement of a Booster Club that could be tasked with raising the remainder of funds for the project.
“We kicked in ours, you kick in yours,” Walter said of the $150,000. “Let’s see these people get together and show us what they can do. We might be pleasantly surprised. I’ve heard big promises out there.”
Athletic Director Kristina Sage said at the meeting there is somebody who has done the legwork to get a Booster Club started.
“I have somebody who is very ready to take the lead on that,” Sage told the board.
But Kunz cautioned the board to be careful how it spends taxpayer money, which he said would have to come out of the general fund.
“What’s the public perception going to be if you’re using school funds for something that isn’t really a school thing?” Kunz asked, citing a conversation he had with both the department of legislative audit and the school attorney. A better approach, he said, would be to simply donate the land.
“I disagree,” Walter said. “I’ve talked to District 3 (Planning and Development) and legislative audit. There’s no reason it can’t be done.”
“I’m just saying perception is the issue you have,” Kunz responded.
School officials questioned who would maintain the grounds, the level of school use should the land be donated and whether waiting to move on the ballfields until the South Dakota High School Activities Association sanctions girls softball would be prudent.
Walter acknowledged there are details that would need to be worked out but iterated his strong support for the project.
“You’re going to have issues (to deal with),” he said. “But if you don’t move off center, it ain’t happening. This is the one thing that everybody is interested in, and everybody can participate in. I’m not as worried about the details as I am committing to it and getting the ball rolling.”
But board president Kyle Weier said none of those issues are red flags.
“I don’t see any of these problems stopping this from happening,” he said.
Board member Slade Ammann spoke as strongly in favor of the new ballfields as any board member and said a gift of land and a financial contribution from the district can be expected.
“We need to do it; we’d be crazy not to,” he said. “(Youth baseball and softball) is by far the most popular activity in Freeman. “We’re selling (those kids) short if don’t give them these facilities.”
Walter said there would still be time to get groundwork started this year.
“If you want to move dirt, it’s not too late, but we’re getting there,” he said. “I’d like to see it get going.”