In a May 23 vote, the people of North Branch approved two bonds and a levy to fund various improvements and upgrades to the North Branch school facilities.
Question 2 on that ballot concerned a $10.94 million, 25-year bond dedicated to athletic improvements; “yes” won that vote 55 percent to 45 percent.
“It really feels like a vote of confidence in the district,” North Branch community relations coordinator Patrick Tepoorten said. “It’s (people saying), ‘We trust that you have a good vision for the community.’”
With the community’s approval confirmed, the North Branch activities department has already begun making plans. Over the next few years, North Branch athletes and supporters are likely to see the addition of new gym space, lights for the baseball fields, a turf field in the main stadium and a new surface for the tennis courts among other improvements.
“A lot of our plans will depend on the construction schedule for the bigger project,” activities director Matt Lattimore said, referring to the upgrades to school buildings funded through the larger bond dedicated to more general improvements (“Question 1” on the spring ballot).
The current plan is to divide the renovations into three phases over the course of three years, with construction slated to begin in the spring of 2018.
“I foresee that in phase one we’ll see the additions to the gym, the changes to the stadium and the upgrades to the tennis courts,” Lattimore said.
The changes in the stadium will include a new concession stand, an addition to the press box, a new entrance and extra restrooms.
“We’re going to really improve people’s experience when they come to the stadium,” Tepoorten said.
The track will also likely be resurfaced. A new activities wing and a greatly expanded and modernized weight room will be among the indoor improvements.
“We hope to get a lot of the activities projects done sooner rather than later because we want the community to start seeing the benefits as soon as possible,” Tepoorten said.
When the turf field is installed in the main stadium, the dirt removed could be recycled to correct imperfections on baseball and softball fields. The seeding process would require Viking teams to play elsewhere for one season.
“It’s something we’ll have to look at, whether we have to play on city fields or partner with someone else,” Lattimore said. “It’s a situation where we may have to have a little bit of pain for a lot of gain.”
One particular gain with better surfaces will be a major increase in the amount of foot traffic the fields can handle.
“With the turf field, we increase the amount of times we can have kids out there,” Lattimore said. “We can bring JV teams in, we can have ninth-grade football and even middle-school teams using it. I foresee the field being used from when school is done at 3 p.m. until 9 p.m.”
“We did the math once, to see how many times we use our varsity field in a year,” Tepoorten said. “It came out shockingly low, maybe 25 times between football and boys and girls varsity soccer. We’ll be able to improve on that number exponentially by allowing some of our youth organizations and other teams within the school to use it.”
Lattimore further noted that physical education classes would be able to play on a turf field even when snow is on the ground elsewhere. Softball and baseball teams could run their early season practices there as well, rather than being cooped up indoors.
For the sports that do play indoors, the additional gym space will open up slots on the schedule for youth and junior Olympic sports.
“Our gyms are used pretty much non-stop,” Lattimore said. “Now we won’t have teams waiting around until 9 p.m. to get gym time.”
Tournament events could be held entirely at the high school, rather than splitting games between different venues.
The larger North Branch community is likely to benefit from the improvements as well – construction crews will be spending money in town, helping local businesses thrive.
Although the many projects are still in the planning stages, a flurry of activity will begin as the new school year dawns. Construction bids will be considered, and designs and project plans will be finalized.
“We’re kind of in the lull before the storm,” Lattimore said.
“By the spring, we hope to see the construction vehicles,” Tepoorten said.