RACINE — The Racine Unified School District could soon take possession of the Sturtevant Sportsplex after the $5.2 million deal won approval from the School Board on Monday night.
Under the plan, the district will borrow money to make the purchase while the Sportsplex, 10116 Stellar Ave., continues to hold community sports leagues and, ideally, generate enough income to repay the 10-year loan with interest.
Meanwhile, the district will move the REAL School, a charter school serving grades 6-12, into a to-be-renovated part of the Sportsplex building starting in September 2017. There, the school will serve as a “career pathway program,” more closely aligned with the district’s new Academies of Racine at other high schools.
District administrators expect the renovations to accommodate the school will cost up to $4 million more, but they have attested that its close proximity to Gateway Technical College’s iMET Center, 2320 Renaissance Blvd., will give students access to $10 million of technology and resources.
“I think you’ve heard from some community members this evening, and certainly at the study session, that this would be a good fit, it would allow us to find a home for the REAL School, which we have to do, and partner with Gateway in a way that we haven’t been able to do before,” said Dave Hazen, Unified chief operations officer. “In a sense, the added benefit is that added revenues that would come from the sports portion of this building would help pay for the building.”
Final board meeting
The deal came up during the current School Board’s last meeting before five of its members yield their seats to newcomers who won office in the April 5 election. Dozens of people attended the meeting at the district’s administrative campus, 3109 Mount Pleasant St., but the crowd had dwindled to mostly district officials when the Sportsplex proposal came up late in the meeting.
Although some board members expressed concern about the plan — particularly on uncertainties with the costs of renovating the part of the building into a school — most members were optimistic.
The board approved the deal in two resolutions. First the board voted on the plan for buying the Sportsplex and the plan to house the REAL School there, with eight voting for it while Chuck Goodremote cast the lone vote against. He cited uncertainty that the district’s projections, particularly on revenues from the Sportsplex.
“The numbers concern me yet,” Goodremote said, going on to suggest the vote be postponed. “At this time based on the numbers I see, I’m not comfortable and I would have to vote against this.”
In the second vote, the board approved the financing, a 10-year loan with an expected interest rate of 3.5 percent, in an 8-0 vote. Board member Dennis Wiser left the meeting early to attend to business with the Racine City Council and did not cast a vote in the second resolution.
Board documents indicate that the district will apply for a state trust fund loan of $5,225,000 to cover the purchase.
Repaying loan with rental revenue
The 107,681-square-foot sporting complex was built in 2010 for $6.1 million on a 6.8-acre property. It contains a sports area of about 78,000 square feet that includes two indoor soccer fields and a hardcourt area with space for three basketball courts or six volleyball courts.
The district plan to continue renting these sports facilities to the community to cover the cost of annual loan repayments, but the district plans to contract the work of managing facility use and concessions to outside groups.
REAL School plan
Besides the athletic areas, the other third of the building is space currently used for offices or occasional events and banquets. The district would renovate this area over the next year to hold the REAL School with a plan to have it ready for classes by fall 2017.
The REAL School currently shares a building with Olympia Brown Elementary School at 5915 Erie St., Caledonia, in a rundown former Dominican College building that officials have said is ill-suited for its current use.
With Olympia Brown Elementary moving next year to a new building constructed with funds from the $128 million referendum approved in 2014, the Sportsplex proposal provides a new home for the REAL School, while allowing the district to demolish the current Olympia Brown building and potentially sell the lakefront property.
Hazen said REAL, a middle and high school, has about 350 students and hasn’t been able to grow because of its space limitations. The Sportsplex would be able to house about 500 students, possibly 600 if students are regularly out at the iMET Center or doing internships.
A plan of how to renovate the building for the new school will come up at a later time and will likely include various architectural plans, district officials said.