Board pushes new football stadium over the goal line

10 January 2018

Bozeman High School will get a new sports stadium.

School Board trustees voted 7-0 Monday night to approve the schematic design for a new sports stadium costing roughly $7 million, to be built north of Van Winkle Stadium.

Trustee Tanya Reinhardt added language to her motion to ensure that the stadium would be “multipurpose,” available for use by many sports, plus marching band and other activities.

Levi Wesche, head football coach, said the new stadium “is going to be a facility the community can take pride in.”

Neighbors who live around the school renewed their calls to solve the high school’s existing problems with parking, traffic circulation and lack of a designated place for parents to drop off and pick up their kids.

Monica Duling said drivers now have to dodge kids who run across North 11th Avenue and argued that should be resolved first, before building a stadium that will bring more people to the area.

“Do we have to wait until somebody gets hurt?” she asked.

Resident Angie Wasia expressed frustration with the changes to her once-peaceful neighborhood. Abigail Breuer said she has been petitioning the school district to mitigate the problems since 2010 and “we have next to nothing to show for it.”

Kelly Berdahl, marching band director, said parking concerns are legitimate, but he feels the school district has compromised by adding 121 parking spaces in the middle of campus, east of the new stadium.

“Generations of students,” Berdahl said, will benefit from the stadium.

In addition to expanding the parking lot south of the new tennis courts, architects also planned a new wide walkway connecting the new stadium with the old south parking lot facing Main Street, to make it more convenient for sports fans to park there.

Architect Jeff Lusin read a parking consultant’s prediction that most fans would approach the stadium from Main Street, and when they see parking spaces in the south lot, they’ll park there, rather than spill over into the neighborhood.

School officials also plan to widen narrow Ruth Thibeault Lane to make it a new parent pickup and drop-off drive, from North 15th Avenue to the west side of the high school, where a student commons and new entry is planned. The drive will have space for about 38 cars to park while picking up students.

Trustee Gary Lusin said that won’t directly answer the problems on North 11th, but would help indirectly.

School officials are working with the city of Bozeman to plan a roundabout or traffic light at the intersection of 15th with Beall Street and Ruth Thibeault Lane.

Parent Josh Perkins said he came to Bozeman on a football scholarship from “the ’hood” in California, and it is “pretty cool that this is one of your big issues.” He said a stadium would draw the community together.

“Bozeman is like the coolest town in Montana and our facility does not reflect that,” Perkins said.

Retired teacher Glenn Monahan said he’d support money to improve academic buildings, but objected to spending “$7 million on football.” Nationwide, he said, participation in football is down 3.5 percent in about 40 states, and in 14 states it’s down 10 percent, because of parents’ concerns about concussion and brain injury. It seems ironic, he said, that Van Winkle Stadium is named for a player who died in 1954 from a concussion.

Don Cape said his three kids have benefited a lot from playing football, soccer and running track. Sports, he said, “really does have a positive impact.” Trustee Doug Fischer agreed, saying, “I see the magic athletics does for kids.”

Money to build the new stadium is coming out of the same $125 million bond issue passed by voters last May to build the second high school and modernize Bozeman High. The original plan was to renovate the old stadium. But architects and engineers concluded it would be cheaper to build a new stadium, rather than try to fix all the problems at the old one.

The new stadium would be constructed between the student parking lot that faces North 15th Avenue and the new tennis courts. It would lie on a north-south axis, rather than east-west like Van Winkle. It would have artificial turf.

The goal is to start construction of Bozeman High’s new stadium this spring and finish this fall. Both Bozeman High and the community’s second high school, set to open in 2020, are to share the stadium.

A new competition track is to be built at the new high school, at the future intersection of West Oak Street and Cottonwood Road. Aiden Reinhardt, a Bozeman High student who participates in track and music, said he believes a majority of students support the new stadium.