Mount Vernon’s Anna Hoffman (22) and Marion’s Aubrey Backous (7) attempt to gain control of the ball on June 2, 2021, during a Class 2A girls’ soccer regional final at Cornell Football Ground in Mount Vernon. A new activity complex, to be built next to Mount Vernon High School, will give the Mustangs a home after years of hosting games at Cornell College. (Cliff Jette/Freelancer for The Gazette)
Mount Vernon High School Marching Mustangs senior Steven Wolfe and the rest of the marching band preview Nov. 22, 2021, before appearing in the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade. The group often does not have land available for training. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
MOUNT VERNON — An activity complex of up to $5.7 million is planned for the Mount Vernon Community School District, funded by a combination of $2.5 million in donations and school district funds and loans.
The complex, which will be built next to Mount Vernon High School, 731 Palisades Rd. SW, will provide the Mustangs – the school’s mascot – a home after years of hosting games at Cornell College and train on unregulated grounds.
“Our facilities must match the quality of our programs,” Superintendent Greg Batenhorst said. “We have an exceptional fine arts program and we now have a facility to match the quality of it. We are looking for the same for sports and marching band. They need something better.
The activity complex, which was approved by the school board last month and site plan approved by Mount Vernon City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission, will include seating for approximately 1,500 spectators, a field grass with an eight-lane track and a place for the marching band to practice and perform – as well as for physical education classes.
There will also be a concessions stand and restroom building with an outdoor patio, press box, notice board and over 560 parking spaces. Construction will begin in spring 2023 and end in summer 2024.
More than 75 percent of Mount Vernon middle and high school students participate in at least one extracurricular activity, including athletics and marching band. About 220 students participated in track and field last spring, sharing a six-lane track at the middle school, Batenhorst said.
Students sometimes have to practice as early as 6 a.m. or late at night because there is not enough space for everyone to practice at the same time.
The band’s more than 100 students — who were invited to perform at a Memorial Day parade in Washington, DC, in 2023 — often don’t have a field to practice on, Batenhorst said.
The activity complex is “not a need, it’s a need for our programs,” Batenhorst said. “When we talk about this project, we think of it as a 50-year commitment to children.”
For years, Mount Vernon students have trained and competed on the field at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, which costs around $5,000 a football season. Football and soccer practices are usually held at the district’s First Street Field, 221 E. First St., which is a grass field and not regulation size for football.
“Our kids are thrilled to see their name on it – Mustangs – and to have a stadium that is ours,” said district athletic director Matt Thede. “We’re grateful to play at Cornell, but they yearn for this property, this house.”
The district has raised nearly $2 million for the project since 2017, Batenhorst said. The resort will be open to the community after hours as they help pay for it, Batenhorst said.
In addition, $1 million Physical Plant and Equipment Tax funds and a $3 million Physical Plant and Equipment Tax loan will help finance the project.
The project will also include stormwater management. When Mount Vernon High School was built in 2006, a stormwater management pond was constructed to capture water from 131 acres. The pond captures water and releases it slowly, so it doesn’t flood neighborhoods below the high school, said Loren Hoffman, project manager at Hall and Hall Engineers.
As part of the activity complex, the district is removing between 3 and 4 feet of accumulated sediment at the bottom of the pond and raising the fill an additional foot, Hoffman said.
A second stormwater management pond will also be constructed as a spillway for the first pond, directing water toward school property and away from surrounding neighborhoods.
The Activity Complex is the next project in the district’s 20-year vision to meet the academic and activity needs of students.
The project frees up land where a six-lane track currently sits behind the college, 525 Palisades Rd, SW, for a fourth education building, which will be needed within the next six to eight years, Batenhorst said.
The educational building could be for early childhood education or for fourth and fifth graders to reduce clutter in elementary and middle schools in the district.
Since the district launched its 20-year vision in 2017, completed projects include:
- College renovations with new flooring in classrooms and hallways, new library, new classrooms and secure entrance;
- A new high school performing arts center, which opened in the spring of 2020;
- A new softball complex;
- And a multipurpose community wellness center built next to the secondary school.
The addition of the performing arts center to the high school was part of a $12.8 million blanket bond passed by voters in the spring of 2018. The measure, which required a 60% supermajority to pass, garnered 80%. The bond did not increase the district’s property tax rate at the time by $18.41 per $1,000 of property assessment.
Batenhorst said a second bond will be needed to move forward on the fourth education building. A new bond issue cannot be raised until the current bond is redeemed in 2026, he said.
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