Constructing a new field house at Brookfield East High School (Wisconsin) began long before crews shoveled the first dirt or laid the first brick.
Preparing for the future
Wisconsin athletic director believes planning and research are keys to building new facilities the right way.
The real creation of the school’s now 2-year-old sports facility began more than half a decade earlier, when administrators recognized enrollment was outgrowing the capacity of its gymnasium. That set in motion a lengthy planning process that athletic director Corey Golla said was far more important than overseeing the construction itself.
For those embarking on similar projects, Golla said remember to envision the “full spectrum” of what you’re trying to accomplish. That’s often difficult for administrators who get too wrapped up in the big picture, overlooking the minor details that are equally important to the school’s long-term goals.
“The community tends to think of our gym as just an events center, because that’s when they see it the most,” said Golla. “But take time to think about how all this impacts physical education and how you can make it a better facility for that, as well as how it impacts your day-to-day practice.”
It’s all about planning and research, which Golla said were the two most important aspects of the project. Overseeing construction comes with its own set of challenges but the more you’re prepared, the easier it gets.
Out with the old
The layout of the school’s new training room allows staff to “more efficiently” treat students, athletic director Corey Golla says. The old training room was merged with the weight room to provide more room for equipment.
Brookfield East wasn’t grappling with a broken down field house years earlier but rather a gymnasium that was too small for the growing high school. The old gym included two stations that were built in the mid-1960s, well before Title IX and some of the school’s other programs were put in place. Golla said other facilities, like the locker rooms, also were in need of modifications.
“The gym floor itself was in really good shape,” said Golla. “I still have coaches that say they love what we had and they miss that small, kind of cozy confines of our old gymit was just too small. Sometimes during physical education we have three sections of 30 kids trying to share that one gym, so it would get pretty crowded in there.
“The programs today are bigger and there’s more of them including strength and conditioning aspects. Back in the ’60s, athletics was different than it is now and there are more options.”
Brookfield East’s field house was approved as part of a $62.2 million referendum, supported in 2008 by 52 percent of voters. The Elmbrook School District includes two high schools and funds were distributed between both for extensive remodeling and upgrades to their facilities.
Voters years earlier rejected a similar referendum seeking a larger amount of money. Golla said plans for the expansion and a study examining the project go back nearly a decade ago, when administrators first started to explore their options.
Searching for support
Golla spent a significant amount of time “politicking,” garnering support for what is one of the biggest hurdles any major project faces: funding. He took part in community listening sessions and answered questions from local residents or anyone else who took interest in the project.
That’s partially why Golla said research and planning are two of the most fundamental keys to advancing these types of projects. Golla and other district representatives were constantly brought before community members to detail their plans or lead tours of the school.
“(The project) starts big with everything that you want and it’s pared down to everything that you need, and that’s what we landed,” said Golla. “We kind of still joke about having scars from the whole referendum process because we’re probably no different than most communities in that we’re fiscally conservative.
“We didn’t use terms like ‘state of the art.’ The common language was ‘What do you need? Don’t tell us what you want.'”
Golla said what the school eventually received was exactly what it needed. As he walks through the new field house today, situated across a 15-foot wide hallway from the old gymnasium, he boasts about the new facility and what it has done for the school.
Brookfield East has a four-station field house, resulting in improved space for the basketball and volleyball programs. Circling the gym’s main hardwood floor is a track with a rubber-like surface that accommodates team sports and the school’s physical education courses.
The flooring was provided by ProStar in Milwaukee, which also built the floor at the Bradley Center, home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.
High above the gym floor are drop-down curtains that seal off sections of the field house for practices or other events. There also is a batting cage that descends, allowing the baseball team to take hitting practice during the offseason or inclement weather.
Other additions were a new sound system provided by Pro Audio and scoreboards installed by Milwaukee Sporting Goods. Golla said during the bidding process the school tried to accept the most cost-effective products whenever possible but it also tried to focus on buying from local businesses.
The perfect fit
Golla is confident the school received a field house that’s going to benefit it for decades to come but the process didn’t come without concessions. One of those sacrifices was the school’s locker rooms, which still appear cramped. Golla said planners had to work with the existing footprint of the school, so they were limited in their options.
Others concessions were in storage space and the weight room. The weight room only grew by about 10 feet when construction crews were able to knock out a wall into what previously served as the training room. The athletic department received a new training room across the hall from the field house where it’s able to deal with student-athletes “more efficiently.”
“I love what we have,” Golla said. “When you’re the user and essentially not paying the bills, it’s like building a house, you always wish you had made your closets bigger. More storage certainly would have been convenient, but we got the four-station field house and that’s the impact on the children. You got the space you need and I think the end product is right on the money.”
Rich Boesel, who served as an on-site project manager during construction, said he’s extremely pleased with outcome. Part of the reason things turned out so well, he said, is because of the communication. From community meetings to internal discussions amongst school officials, Boesel says including a diverse group of people in the planning process assured them Brookfield East would get exactly what it needed.
“Make sure you involve the right people on your team,” Boesel said. “I felt that we were well represented, and my guess is if you have a project and the closure didn’t bring total success, there are two reasons: You were underfunded or you didn’t have the coordination or the right amount of people on this.”
A balancing act
Putting the right people on the project is one thing but managers and athletic directors also have to worry about the construction itself on top of their normal, everyday routine. Golla expected a juggling act but one thing he didn’t anticipate was all the small decisions that come with building a new field house.
There were the details he was prepared for, like making sure the organization of the field house itself accommodated those using it. He did that by visiting facilities in neighboring districts like Oconomowoc and New Berlin. It allowed him to better visualize his school’s project to make sure it met all the students’ needs.
Golla said he also kept in contact with other administrators in southeastern Wisconsin who had worked through similar projects. It helped him plan and anticipate what he should look out for while overseeing construction.
Then there are the smaller decisions that few people expect during the course of a multimillion-dollar construction. Golla said he had to inspect plans for the lines on the court to make sure they weren’t cluttered and confusing to the student-athletes. He also had to carefully choose the color paint used throughout the field house.
Brookfield East’s team colors include navy blue while the school’s cross-town rival, Brookfield Central, wears royal blue. Coating the school’s brand-new facility in the wrong shade of blue would have raised eyebrows with its die-hard supporters.
“You get that wrong around here and that’s a huge deal,” Golla said.
“I would say to anyone planning a similar project to do as much research as possible and visit as many places as you can ahead of when you start getting into the final plans and final construction. Looking back in my mind, I thought I would be able to see a lot more facilities once the referendum passed but the truth is once it passes the pace was 100 mph. I would have liked to see more and talk to more people.”
Avoiding the distractions
Lucky for Golla and the rest of the athletic department, they didn’t have to struggle with relocating home games while the facility was constructed. The field house was built as teams continued to play in the old gymnasium. Classes that were too close to the construction were relocated to other parts of campus to avoid the noise.
Once the field house was finished, construction crews then remodeled the old gymnasium to serve as the school’s fine arts wing. Choir and band classes are now held on the same hardwood floor used years earlier by the school’s sports teams. That allowed Brookfield East to address two needs and minimize costs associated with a more complex remodeling project for its music department.
One last piece of advice Golla has for his peers: Toss out the junk.
When Golla started to pack away equipment leading up to construction, he came across heaps of useless items that should have been discarded years earlier. That included shuttlecocks with real feathers, outdated gymnastics equipment and a pair of boxing gloves, which now serve as a bookend on a shelf in Golla’s office.
“That process is something you want to do a couple of years going into the project,” he said. “I think coaches by nature are hoarders. It was quite a process.”