NCPS collaboration seeks funds for Pioneer Field

Kirt Manion, CherryRoad Media

A collaborative fundraising effort will soon be underway at Nebraska City Public Schools with the goal of addressing safety and liability issues associated with the playing surface at Pioneer Field.

The field turf surface at the school, installed in 2008, is five years past its life expectancy and could be nearing the point where it would be not playable.

To address this issue, NCPS is partnering with Lourdes Central Catholic, the NCHS Athletic and Fine Arts Booster Clubs and the Elementary PTO to raise funds through the sale of advertising banners to be placed along the fences around the athletic complex at Pioneer Field.

Funds from the sale of advertising banners would then be used in conjuction with grant funding other donations and, potentially, funds from the district budget, to meet the $450K cost of field turf replacement.

Banners will be sold on one and four year arrangements to both businesses and individuals with the goal of selling 100 total banners for $100K. The school will be applying for a grant in 2022 which could  bring $250K to the project, leaving a potential balance of $100K for other donors or district funding.

A fund has been established for the expressed purposes of improving the athletic complex at Pioneer Field and already has a donated amount of $13K with that donation directed toward the addition of pole vault event equipment at the field.

Should fundraising go on and fall short of its goal, NCHS Superintendent Mark Fritch said the money would be added to the existing funds for the pole vault and would not be touched for any other project at the school. At a future time, additional funds would be sought to put with the money already collected and would then used for athletic complex improvements.

Banners sold would be hung at the field beginning with the spring sports seasons, stored over the summer and put out again for the fall regardless of whether the fundraising goal was reached.

Getting to the goal as soon as possible is essential, however.

Superintendent Fritch said the school sought a third party inspection of the turf surface at Pioneer Field and found that it was in definite need of replacement.

Fritch said the inspector gave credit to the maintenance crew at Nebraska City Public Schools and its director, Jenny Gawart, for their work in extending the life of the turf at the school, and, without their efforts, said that the field might have been unplayable a few years ago.

Fritch said a discussion will be had by the board soon about the possibility of playing another season on the field turf at Nebraska City High School. It is possible that the field would be playable, but that use would be limited to only a certain number of games or that use would be limited to performance only and no practices.

“We can not afford to do any more damage to it,” Fritch said.

The Pioneer Field is used by the NCHS teams, varsity, junior varsity and reserve with football and soccer. But the field also gets use from Lourdes high school teams, from NCPS middle school teams and from various youth organizations as well as by Nebraska City residents.

Fritch said the current school board has stated that it would like the facility to be available for all community uses, but noted that, due to its current condition, that usage might not be advisable going forward.

If issues are addressed, then the field would be available.

“Our board wants to continue that route,” Fritch said with regard to community use.

Field turf is definitely the top issue at Pioneer Field, but the fundraising effort also seeks to address long standing issues of updates, upgrades and improvements with the goal of raising $550K for that purpose.

Potential work would include resurfacing the track, improvement of the shot put and discus rings, installation of pole vault pits, a new digital scoreboard, the addition of flag poles to allow for a larger American flag on display as well as the possibility of school and state flags, LED lights to save energy and address on-going electrical issues, and an update to the deteriorating condition of the visitor seating area which is original to the complex built back in 1979-80.

Fundraising efforts, grants and other donations, are really the only remedy for the school district, which is in a financial crunch. On Tuesday, May 11, 2021, the school district went to the voters with a levy override proposal to help restructure liabilities to allow for greater cash flow and minimize negative impact on the overall educational experience for students in the district. That initiative was voted down, however. The district has been working to address its financial situation in other ways and could go back to the voter with a revised proposal.

Needless to say, money is tight.

“Most people know the financial situation of the district. It will always be hard until things change in the state,” said Fritch. “It will be very hard for the district to put money aside committed to that athletic complex.”

Pictured is Pioneer Field at Nebraska City High School.