For years, the city of Monona and Monona Grove High School have shared a number of athletic facilities.
The high school tennis teams sometimes play on the courts at Ahuska Park.
The baseball and softball teams use the diamonds at Winnequah and Ahuska.
In exchange, the school district lets the parks department use gyms at Winnequah and Nichols schools for youth basketball programs.
It is a good deal for taxpayers, because it eliminates the need to build duplicate recreation facilities for both the school district and community.
Monona Parks and Recreation Director Jake Anderson says he’s not aware of any scheduling conflicts that make this long-standing arrangement unworkable.
“They tell us when they need a field, and we schedule it,” he told me last fall.
Anderson and I were discussing a “final recommendation” from the school district’s Facilities Advisory Committee for $14.8 million to renovate existing athletic facilities and build new ones.
That $14.8 million was not included in the $57 million referendum approved by voters last fall, aside from about $645,000 to renovate the high school track.
But proof the athletic project lives came last week, when the school board unveiled plans to acquire an additional 15 acres at the 41-acre site of the new elementary school in Cottage Grove.
While school board members claim the additional land is needed to “move students and staff somewhat safely between” the elementary school and Glacial Drumlin School, site plans show much of the property designated for future playing fields.
What this means is, high school athletes who currently use Monona recreational facilities for practice and games will, sooner or later, be bussed to brand-new facilities in Cottage Grove.
Expect soccer to move. Maybe tennis. Probably baseball and softball.
Who knows: Maybe the $14.8 million includes an indoor hockey rink, since the cost of renting “ice time” at existing rinks makes hockey the single most expensive sport at MGHS.
School district taxpayers will be asked to pony up the money to build all these shiny new fields in Cottage Grove and to pay the cost of moving high school athletes back and forth.
Which is probably why the $14.8-million proposal was not included in last fall’s referendum: School officials might have feared Monona taxpayers would balk at paying for recreational facilities in Cottage Grove.
The issue of athletic facilities also came up last fall in the context of some Cottage Grove parents suggesting the district should build a whole new high school — in Cottage Grove, of course.
Reality-based commentators on the “Moms of Monona Grove” Facebook page noted that dividing the high school population between two schools would produce two tiny high schools that would compete at the “Division 10” level.
They also decried the cost of duplicating existing athletic facilities – including those generously provided by city of Monona taxpayers.
But, heck, once all those playing fields are built in Cottage Grove, we might as well go ahead and move the high school there – just to save on transportation costs.
Or maybe the aforementioned Cottage Grove separatists will decide to secede from the union and start their own school district.
If all this sounds like paranoid delusions, you’re probably right.
And you probably believe the district needs an extra 15 acres of land to move children and staff safely.
And you probably believe those same officials when they describe the $1 million needed to buy the land as a “windfall,” which is defined as a piece of unexpected good fortune.
The money will flow to the district after the city of Monona closes a tax incremental financing district.
School officials knew that money was coming, all along. It’s embarrassing to watch the district act like they just stuck their hand in the pocket of an old coat and found a million-dollar bill.
Last fall, I e-mailed three school officials and asked them about the $14.8 million athletic facilities plan in the “final recommendations.”
Not one of them replied.
Their silence is telling.
That $14.8 million athletic facilities proposal is still alive. It’s just hiding – maybe until the district’s next referendum in 2020.
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