JANESVILLE -- In late August of 2017, a back-to-school open house was held at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton. A focal point at the southern Minnesota school was a new stadium and softball field, all cloaked in artificial turf.
During the open house, superintendent Bill Adams asked a member of the Bulldogs football team what he thought of the new facilities. The young man replied, "It's way awesome and we don't deserve it. We’re in Janesville, Minnesota, and we don’t deserve this."
Adams told him, “Don’t ever think that way. Your zip code doesn’t determine what you deserve.”
The population of Janesville is 2,259. Waldorf has 227 souls and Pemberton comes in with 240. The current high school enrollment at J-W-P is 191 students. And the zip codes mean zip.
One day earlier this week, as outdoor spring sports schedules all over the state were being postponed and cancelled after recent snow, the softball field in Janesville was a busy place. And the J-W-P team was nowhere to be seen; teams from New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Medford were playing.
The contest had been scheduled as a home game for NRHEG but the Panthers’ field was unplayable. Same thing in Medford. NRHEG activities director Dan Stork called his counterpart at J-W-P, Ryan Luedtke, and asked if the field was available. A few hours later the game was underway, with NRHEG paying a rental fee of 125 dollars.
“We try to have as many people use it as possible,” Luedtke said. “Right now it’s being used every day.”
NRHEG softball coach Wendy Schultz said, “First we thought we were playing at our place, then maybe we were going to Medford, then this transpired. We love it.”
During the softball game, J-W-P track and field athletes were working out on the all-weather track in the stadium, where everything is first-rate; lights, bleachers, press box, scoreboard, concession/restroom building. The previous cinder track had become an eyesore, and the Bulldogs are now happily hosting track meets again after years of road-only competition.
The previous facilities, which dated from the early 1970s, were built in what was described as a somewhat swampy area. Drainage issues sometimes meant standing water.
“It served it’s time, but it was time” for an upgrade, Adams said. “It turned out really nice.”
That is an understatement. Three years ago no one was using the term “Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton University,” but that’s what some hometown students like to say. Last spring, when the Bulldogs hosted a track meet for the first time in years, visiting students from neighboring small schools were overheard expressing jealousy. And new jaws drop every time new visitors arrive.
The cost of the facilities was estimated at $4.2 million and the final price tag was $3.9 million, financed by a combination of general-fund dollars, state bonds and funding from a 2011 tax levy.
“Our school board was very intentional in building a fund balance to start a savings account for an athletic complex,” said Adams, a Janesville native who has been superintendent there since 2012 and will assume the same duties at New London-Spicer this summer.
That fund held around $1.5 million when planning for the project began, Adams said. In the end, “There was actually a decrease to taxpayers.”
J-W-P isn’t the smallest school district in Minnesota with turf. Mountain Iron-Buhl (enrollment 126) put in a turf field last fall when a new school opened. Others include Triton (290) and Esko (346).
There were naysayers as J-W-P’s new facilities were discussed, planned and completed.
“That part’s been really interesting,” Adams said. “We had people up front really excited about it and people not excited at all. Some of those people have seen how much the complex is being used and they understand now why it was a good decision. There still are a few people who are not very excited.”
The softball field is being used by high school and college teams, and coaches from nearby Minnesota State Mankato have inquired about holding football and soccer practices in the stadium. The Waseca High School marching band has made the stadium a regular summer rehearsal spot.
“It’s just so nice to be able to come out and play,” said NRHEG’s Schultz.
Lights may be the next addition to the softball field, which would further add to the amount of time that physical education classes, home teams, visiting teams, youth groups and others could use and rent the facilities.
Adams has been contacted by administrators in other school districts who are considering similar projects. He’s glad to offer advice and answer questions.
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