KEARNEY — Today the Kearney High Bearcats call “Home” Harvey Park, Baldwin Park, Harmon Park, Foster Field and Cushing Coliseum.
Only the volleyball, basketball, wrestling and track and field teams can actually call Kearney High “Home.”
That will start to change with the completion of the new school building in 2016.
“It will allow us to bring several activities back to campus,” Kearney Public Schools Superintendent Brian Maher said. “For example, swimming will be on campus versus going to UNK. Softball might be on campus instead of driving across town. … Soccer is another sport we’ll be able to bring back to campus, at least for practices. We’re not sure on the games yet, but at least for practices.”
Keeping practices on campus will decrease the risk of accidents, reducing the amount of time the students are traveling from place to place. To go along with the safety factor, Maher said having practice fields and venues on campus increases the students’ efficiency.
“From a practical standpoint, if you’re not at home, you’re losing time. … It would be nice to walk out the school doors and be at your practice facility or walk down the hallway to your practice or competition facility. From a practical standpoint, it would be real nice to have everything right there,” he said.
Kearney voters approved the $68-million bond issue for a new school in September. Ground breaking is scheduled for May on the 138-acre site at 11th Street and 30th Ave. in southwest Kearney.
It’s a big plot of ground, but Kearney High officials have big plans for academics and athletics.
“We have the ability to keep everything on our campus,” KHS Athletics Director Mitch Stine said. “And we have a place to call home. We can create that home-field advantage, that home-court advantage and showcase this facility to the community.”
Included in the bond issue were two gymnasiums, a swimming pool, a wrestling room, a football/track stadium and practice fields. There is room for additional practice fields as well as softball and baseball diamonds and tennis courts.
Plans for the indoor venues — swimming pool, wrestling room and the gymnasiums — “are starting to firm up. Our board will approve a schematic design (Monday),” Maher said. “There’s still plenty of room to change things, particularly in the outside areas.”
Coaches, supporters and the administration have had several meetings, talked to other schools that have had recent construction projects and presented their hopes and dreams to the architects, Stine said. He challenged the coaches to “dream big” and put down every idea they could.
“We’ve done our homework. . … We’ve grabbed every idea we could and discussed it to see if it makes sense to Kearney High School. So the bottom line is that our coaches are really excited, our sponsors are really excited and we’re going to build a great facility for our community and for our kids,” Stine said.
An additional football field and track
Walk across Joe Greeno Field on a spring afternoon with your head down and you will run a high risk of getting knocked down. Runners and jumpers from the Kearney High and Horizon Middle School track teams weave in and out of traffic throughout their practice sessions on the field just north of Horizon Middle School and to the west of Kearney High.
While not used for varsity football games, Joe Greeno Field, which has bleacher seating for just under 600, serves the needs for junior varsity and sophomore football, as well as varsity practice, and it’s regarded as one of the best track and field facilities in the state.
Plans call for a similar facility immediately adjacent to the new high school with an 8-lane “high-quality competition track” that will be used for varsity meets. The track will surround an artificial turf football field used for practices and non-varsity competition. They will be sheltered from wind on the north and west sides by the two-story school building.
“The stadium will be such that if we want to have that be our home for varsity contests, all the planning will be done. All we will need to do is put in more bleachers and lights and we’ll be able to host varsity contests there,” Maher said.
The additional bleachers and lights are not in the budget. Current plans are for bleachers between the school building and the track seating about 750.
Kearney High plays its varsity football games at the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s 6,000-seat Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
The additional football/track facility will alleviate the congestion at Joe Greeno Field, which as been shared by Kearney High and Horizon Middle School since the middle school construction began in 1969.
“We’re adding facility space for our kids. We’re not going to have that issue of safety or numbers in the way. It’s really a win-win. … We’re keeping a nice facility here for our middle school kids and we’re building a premier one for our high school kids,” Stine said.
Published drawings for the new school have indicated four tennis courts, four football/soccer practice fields, a softball diamond and a baseball diamond. Of those, Maher said, only two practice fields are in the current budget plans.
“We would like to get to a minimum of three, if not four of those,” Maher said. “I would like to have two areas — one for boys soccer, one for girls soccer — and one for throwing the discus. … Why four? Overflow, or freshman football.”
For tennis, softball and baseball, Maher said, outside financing will be required.
“We’ve been in talks with the city from way prior to the bond on how can we help each other. What does the city need? What are the school’s needs? And how can we complement each other in providing space?” he said. “The City’s needs are softball space, baseball space and soccer space. Our needs are softball space and soccer space.”
Maher has also had discussions with UNK, which has needs for more athletic space as well.
“Maybe there’s a use there that will benefit UNK, KPS and the city of Kearney, but we’re still in the early stages of those conversations,” Maher said.
Adding practice fields requires a minimum of construction, but suitable fields would require leveling and sod. Architects estimate the cost would be $50,000-60,000 per field.
A softball or a baseball complex would be much more expensive and KHS doesn’t field a baseball team.
“Will we ever need baseball space? I suspect we will,” Maher said. “We’re one of only two Class A schools that doesn’t have baseball. If I had to project into the future, my guess is at some point in time Kearney will have baseball at Kearney High School. I’m not making any predictions here, but that’s my best guess.”
More space = stronger development
The current Kearney High gym, built in 1961, seats 1,800 and has space for two practice courts running cross-ways when the bleachers are pushed back.
The “North Gym,” built in 1988, also has room for two practice floors.
Plans for the new gyms expand the practice space from four courts to five. The main gym include space for three 94-foot courts. The auxiliary gym has room for two 84-foot courts.
“That will give them more courts, more baskets, more opportunities for player development,” Maher said.
Plans also call for expanding the wrestling room and strength and conditioning areas.
“Again, in terms of player development, that’s a plus,” Maher said.
The seating capacity in the main gym will increase to 2,000.
Maher envisions the new gym will be very similar to Lincoln Southeast’s Prasch Auditorium, complete with a walkway around the top. Fans will enter the gym from the walkway level and proceed down to the stands. The walkway will provide standing-room viewing “for those nervous parents,” Maher said.
Compared to some gyms in the area, the proposed Kearney High gymnasium would be smaller than the gym at Hastings, which seats 3,013, and Grand Island (2,800) but comparable to Lexington (2,100). The Holdrege gym, which seats 1,740, is limited by stage seating on one side.
“I think the smaller, intimate feel provides a better atmosphere,” Stine said. “I’ve been in G.I. I’ve been in Hastings. And with all due respect to what they’ve built, it does feel empty at times. I think the facility we’re building will provide a better game-night atmosphere.”
Maher said, “The bigger it gets, the more it costs, but you don’t want to build it small and look silly when you open. … I don’t want to overbuild it so we can say, ‘Look how big our gym is.’ I want it to be appropriately sized. I think 2,000 seats will be plenty for the events we will bring into it.”
Kearney will want to bring in outside events, including district and subdistrict games in volleyball and basketball.
“We now have the ability to host larger crowds. That’s an advantage in itself. … We can attract some state-level competition or district-level competition. We’ll be a able to host more stuff for the NSAA that brings in revenue for our school, for our district and for our individual clubs and activities,” Stine said.
In September, voters also approved an addition $7.4-million bond for construction of a swimming pool as part of the high school.
The pool plans include bleacher seating for 300-500 spectators. Today, members of the swim team coordinate practices with UNK and the YMCA, usually in pre-dawn hours.
Having a place to practice within normal extra-curricular hours has been cheered by the swimming program.
Sharing facilities with the UNK swim team has had its challenges. In December, Kearney High canceled a meet at UNK’s aging Cushing Coliseum pool because of water quality.
“We’re looking forward to the likelihood we will be able to swim in … a good facility and have seating for our fans,” Maher said. “When I look 2½ years down the road I see a far better swimming facility than what we currently have.”