Alpena High teams to play on new turf field next season

Though voters on Tuesday rejected Alpena Public Schools’ bond proposal for facilities improvements throughout the district, Alpena’s sports teams will have a brand-new playing surface next season thanks to private donations.

The APS Board of Education accepted more than $600,000 in large donations and a family endowment funds during a meeting on Thursday to go toward the installation of a new artificial turf field at Wildcat Stadium before the 2019-20 school year.

The field will be called Park Family Field and will be striped for football, soccer and lacrosse. The new turf field will also feature the logo of Alpena Alcona Area Credit Union, which will help APS with the financial part of the project.

APS Superintendent John VanWagoner said Thursday’s meeting was already scheduled to set the last day of school for students. But, after donations were made available, VanWagoner used the opportunity to ask the board if it they wanted to accept donations for such a project.

The money accepted on Thursday included $200,000 from the Park Family Foundation and $100,000 from the Besser Foundation. Alpena Alcona Area Credit Union will contribute $240,000 to the project, but will be reimbursed through the Robert and Jacqueline Granum Alpena Public Schools Fund. Additionally, Lafarge North America will contribute $100,000 in stone, which will be installed below the turf.

The announcement comes only a few days after local voters rejected a $63 million bond proposal for major facility upgrades across the district. Both Alpena High Athletic Director Tim Storch and VanWagoner stressed the turf field project has been in development for several years and involved many conversations with local businesses, boosters and parents before any decisions were made.

The money donated for the turf field has been specifically earmarked for athletic upgrades and no district money will be used.

Wildcat Stadium opened in 1967 and, in the last few years, Alpena has embarked on the Wildcat Stadium Renovation Project, designed to modernize the field’s facilities. So far, the Stadium Renovation Project has raised money for the purchase and installation of a video scoreboard and new stadium lights.

Storch said state funding is done differently for APS and projects like the athletic field are only made possible through funds from local businesses, private organizations and community members.

“For gym projects and the lights and the scoreboard, all those came with the caveat that businesses will get advertising and they’re more likely to advertise at a sporting venue where it’s seen by thousands of people,” Storch said. “As someone who’s relied on my committee to raise a quarter of a million dollars, it’s not easy to get that kind of money. It’s amazing they (local businesses) are so generous with their time and money.”

The approval of donations comes at an opportune time for athletic upgrades. The field at Wildcat Stadium currently has a problem with its main sewer pipe. The pipe, which is the original one from when the school was built, runs from the main office at Alpena High School all the way to M-32. On the field, it runs along the hashmarks and has caused a sinkhole on the field, which has been periodically filled so Alpena can host home games.

Rather than having to spend time and money to dig up and possibly move a pipe, which lies 12 feet down in the ground, the new turf field will give Alpena a chance to fix those issues and ultimately save $25,000 to $30,000 in maintenance costs. Since artificial turf has can last 12 to 15 years before replacement, VanWagoner said the savings from having it installed could go toward that when the time comes.

Turf fields are a rarity in Northeast Michigan, but not for Alpena’s contemporaries. Big North opponents like Traverse City West, Traverse City Central, and Petoskey all play on turf fields, and Gaylord added turf field last year. VanWagoner said one of the biggest benefits of the turf will be its versatility.

The Alpena High football and soccer teams will get to play home games on a brand-new turf, but he’s hopeful that youth teams such as those in the Thunder Bay Youth Soccer Association and Alpena Jets can play games there, too. The field will also open up opportunities for Alpena’s club lacrosse team to play and VanWagoner is also hopeful having turf will give some of Alpena’s teams a chance to practice outside earlier during the spring season.

“Not a single dollar of district money was used for this project,” VanWagoner said. “We’ll have a field that’s up to par with others around the Big North.”