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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2005

Whiteford: Boosters pledge facility for athletes


OTTAWA LAKE - The Whiteford Athletic Boosters have committed to raising the money needed to build a $150,000 weight room and workout center on school property that they hope will help Whiteford High School athletes better compete.

Boosters President Jeff Bunge last week received tentative approval from the Whiteford Board of Education to proceed with the project, seeking the necessary state approvals to allow for construction of the unattached building later this year.

"Our plans aren't finalized, but they're getting close," said Mr. Bunge, a former coach whose wife, Holly, is the board's treasurer. "This is going to be [the district's] building. We're just going to pay for it."

The boosters plan calls for a building roughly 74 feet long and approximately 24 feet wide that would be built adjacent to the current high school, with covered walkways between the two structures. The cost of the building would also be shared with the Whiteford Youth Football League.

Initial designs would have a small office and a large workout facility, as well as the ability to dedicate about half of the building to a netted cage that would be used for hitting and pitching practice, Mr. Bunge said.

Monroe Bank & Trust has agreed to provide financing for the project, which will be a 10-year loan at 6 percent annual interest. The annual payment that the two groups will be responsible for will be $12,000, plus interest, bank officials said.

Mr. Bunge said the boosters and the football league plan to put a $30,000 down-payment on the project, and "can make payments up to $20,000 a year."

The financing arrangement would be similar to the ones that Bedford Public Schools entered into several years ago with its alumni association and band boosters. The Bedford Alumni Association agreed to privately raise the $1 million necessary to build Bedford Community

Stadium in 1998, while the band boosters agreed to repay a smaller loan for concession facilities at the stadium. Both of those organizations have so far made good on their promises.

Mr. Bunge said having a year-round weight room and workout facility on campus has been a long-held dream for Whiteford's athletic boosters, but one they didn't think was within reach given their other generous programs, such as helping underprivileged athletes afford necessary fees and equipment to play.

But the dream would have died if board members - already struggling with the district's financial troubles - didn't support the nearly free facility.

"With the state in the shape it's in, schools are in survival mode right now," board president Ken Dressel said before the board unanimously approved the measure.

New Whiteford High School Principal Jeff Humason said he believes the weight room project would be a definite benefit to the school, especially since students not involved with athletics would also have access to the facility, as would physical education classes.

"I think if [the boosters and the football league] can pull it off and do it safely, I think it would be a great asset to the school," Mr. Humason said.

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