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DeKALB – Dan Matya, a junior at DeKalb High School, is looking forward to playing football on a home field next season.
When the referendum to build the new DeKalb High School passed in 2008, the cost didn’t include bleachers and lights for the school’s football field. However, a state grant and low bids led the DeKalb School District 428 school board to approve the purchase of bleachers and lights.
DeKalb has been playing football games at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium for years. The addition of bleachers and lights will allow the Barbs to play home games at the new high school.
“I think it’ll be really cool to have our own field,” Matya said. “It should be a lot of fun.”
Dan Jones, athletic director at DeKalb High School, said the addition of bleachers and lights will benefit not only the football team, but also numerous clubs and organizations within the high school and community.
Jones said lights and bleachers open up a place for the high school band to host competitions, and it gives sports teams and other school organizations more flexible practice hours. After not being able to do so at the current high school, the track and field team will be able to host invitationals, Jones said. Hosting an outdoor graduation also is a possibility.
“It makes it a great community gathering spot for DeKalb,” Jones said. “It’s something that’s going to last 50 to 70 years.”
Don Biggs, the district’s executive director of facilities, said installation will begin in mid-May and is expected to be completed by Aug. 1. He said the set of home bleachers will seat 2,500 people, and the away bleachers will seat 1,000. Four light poles will be installed, he said.
Jones said community groups were prepared to raise money for bleachers and lights until the district learned it would receive a $21 million construction grant from the state. District 428 Superintendent Jim Briscoe said the bleachers and lights will be funded with contingency money, which hasn’t been used much to cover unforeseen expenses.
The school board learned earlier this month that there are no restrictions on how the grant money can be used, and the board still has not decided how to use the grant money. One possibility is to use it to replenish the contingency fund.
Briscoe has said bleachers and lights became more affordable because bids came in lower after the recession hit.
RK Sports Seating of Columbus, Ind., won the bid for bleachers earlier this month at a cost of $977,500, which is $22,500 under the district’s budget. Carey Electric Contractors of McHenry won the bid for lights at a cost of $219,592, which is $80,408 under budget.
Jones said playing football games at NIU isn’t cheap. He said it costs between $25,000-$30,000 a year to play there, and Briscoe said the district doesn’t see any profits from concession sales at NIU.
Briscoe said another advantage of the new field is the synthetic turf for the playing surface. The turf allows for a lot of water drainage, allowing youth groups, physical education classes and other groups to use the field more than they would if a different surface was used.
Bob Heimerdinger, a former varsity football head coach and athletic director at DeKalb High School, said it’s been a long time since DeKalb played on its own home field.
Heimerdinger said until the late 1960s and early 1970s, the team played at the field near the current Clinton Rosette Middle School. The field became difficult to maintain and keep seeded, and the wooden light poles had become rotten, he said.
“It just did not turn out to be a very good field to be playing on,” Heimerdinger said.
Mobile bleachers and lights allowed some games to be played at the school’s home field, but Heimerdinger said varsity games were played at NIU. As a DeKalb High School football fan who lives near the new high school, he’s looking forward to watching games at the new field.
“I hope I’m healthy enough to walk down to see games on Friday nights,” Heimerdinger said.