Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Looking for a home-field advantage

Dakota Collegiate needs cash to convert land next to school

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Derek Dufault, Austin Patterson, Chris Mar, Erin White, Amitesh Galhotra, Mahilet Meshesha and vice-principal Robbie Mager on their field of dreams.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Derek Dufault, Austin Patterson, Chris Mar, Erin White, Amitesh Galhotra, Mahilet Meshesha and vice-principal Robbie Mager on their field of dreams. Photo Store

It would all be so simple if Dakota Collegiate could just accept a whopping cheque from a corporation in return for a huge sign along Bishop Grandin Boulevard.

Alas. Corporations can donate to school fundraising projects, but the most they can get in return is a small plaque. The NDP government formally banned schools selling naming rights in 2004 and hasn't budged.

It will take $2.2 million to transform a field strewn with construction debris behind the school into artificial turf, lights, bleachers, a running track and other amenities, and Dakota will have to raise the money the way other schools have done -- a dollar here, a dollar there.

Said principal Jill Mathez: "There are corporations interested in putting their names..."

Finished vice-principal Robbie Mager: "On anything."

Other schools have raised money for athletic fields, but not anywhere near $2.2 million, by tapping into government and foundation grants, appealing to city councillors and MLAs, by well-connected alumni picking up the phone to ask for donations and by bake sales and car washes.

'There are corporations interested in putting their names...'

'... On anything'

Artificial turf and field lights are on a list of capital projects the provincial government does not cover, along with cafeterias, school theatres and playground equipment.

Mager said the grungy field between the Dakota Collegiate building and the Manitoba Hydro lines along Bishop Grandin was used to bury construction debris when houses were built throughout south St. Vital.

Mathez said the school draws lines on it for football practice and holds phys-ed classes on it, but the field isn't fit for varsity sports. "We line it every year for football practice. It was a former landfill -- we have injuries every year."

Dakota's home field for football is Maple Grove Park. Its many teams, from rugby to field hockey to soccer, play home games off campus.

A team playing at home should be able to walk out the back door and so should the student spectators, said math department head and basketball coach Dean Favoni. "One of the real pushes is allowing the kids to play home games at home... ensure every athlete has facilities in-house. We throw the kids on a bus to go to a football game."

A newly formed alumni association is heading the fundraising drive, which has a five-year target for having everything in place, starting with a proper athletic field that would be installed as soon as Dakota has enough money in hand.

The campaign officially kicks off Thursday with a gala fundraising dinner at Canada Inns Polo Park featuring speaker Ken Carter.

Never heard of Ken Carter? How about Coach Carter, as portrayed on screen by Samuel L. Jackson, the inner-city high school basketball coach who benched his team until the players improved their grades? The world came down on Carter's head but the players bought in, studied and graduated. Carter is now a motivational speaker and author of how-to-succeed books. He runs a children's sports and entrepreneurship camp in Texas.

"The site would be used for football, soccer, rugby, field hockey, lacrosse, with a (four-lane) track around it," Favoni said. It will have a scoreboard, lights, stands for 500 on the south side and the potential for a field house.

The province says it does a rough grading of school properties, along with drainage and planting some natural vegetation. So the most recent new high schools -- the replacement of West Kildonan Collegiate and brand-new Northlands Parkway Collegiate in Winkler -- came with the bare basics.

Winnipeg School Division has been quite successful developing its school athletic fields, said director of buildings George Heath. Gordon Bell High School's green space on a former auto dealership site received $5.3 million from the province to purchase the property, but the school and division handled all the fundraising to make it usable.

Kelvin, Elmwood and Churchill high schools have built new fields recently. Queenston and Wolseley schools raised money to expand new gyms beyond the size covered by the provincial formula, and Kelvin paid for new gym bleachers by putting a donor plaque on seats for $20.

"Grant applications are where most of the money comes from," Heath said. "Elmwood had the western diversification program -- that one comes and goes. The significant amount came from the feds, and the province did some matching. Churchill had a mix of grants; they got a fair amount through alumni.

"All schools can apply to the Children's Heritage Fund," a divisional fund from private donors, he said. "Schools typically go to their councillors. You can find some wealthy alumni."

Like Dakota, "Gordon Bell had the opportunity to put up giant signboards -- that's not something we do as a public school board," Heath said.

The NDP issued its no-naming-rights edict in 2004 when Brandon school trustees mused aloud about selling them.

Before the NDP took office in 1999, the Tory government allowed Oak Bluff School to sell classroom naming rights to local families at $5,000 a classroom, the money used to boost the school's computer lab.

Business magnates and philanthropists John and Bonnie Buhler donated $5 million in 2005 for a theatre project at Morden Collegiate, but later withdrew the gift when there was widespread community squabbling over the project -- some wanted to build an indoor pool instead.

As for Dakota Collegiate, "We're going with Alumni Field right now," Mager said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2014 B1

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