Todd and Shari Nelson give new Dells high school hopes a boost

Shari and Todd Nelson have contributed millions to the communities in which their successful Kalahari Resort brand operates, including Wisconsin Dells.

CONTRIBUTED/Wisconsin Dells Education Foundation

Wisconsin Dells’ hopes for a new high school has received a mighty boost from Todd and Shari Nelson.

The Dells’ home-grown, entrepreneurial couple have offered 80 acres of Dells farmland to the Wisconsin Dells School District for use in building a much-needed new high school, with the potential for more donated land serving future needed facilities.

The 80-acre parcel is located on the site of Brew Farm off U.S. Highway 12, northwest of the downtown Dells and across the highway from the Nelson-owned and Kalahari-affiliated Trappers Turn Golf Club.

The couple’s “generous offer of assistance” was announced by the district on its Facebook page the evening of Aug. 9, with a news release and a video announcement from Dells High School Principal Hugh Gaston.

Gaston posted a video on the district’s Facebook page earlier in the day promising the later announcement, which he made while standing near the Trappers Turn entrance across from the farmland the Nelsons hope to donate.

The Nelsons created and own Kalahari Resort in Lake Delton and other similarly themed resorts across the U.S. and have long supported local education through their Wisconsin Dells Education Foundation.

“Creating better educational opportunities for all students in the district is (the Nelsons’) number one goal, and they believe building a new high school would better meet the needs of today’s students as well as anticipate the changing needs of future students,” Gaston said in the video, echoing the words contained in the news release.

“A modern, state-of-the-art high school facility that properly meets the needs of students present and future was the mitigating force behind this offer,” the district’s news release said.

The Nelsons, both 1979 Dells High School graduates who supported the defeated 2014 referendum for building a new high school to serve the district, recently approached the board with the proposal, according to Superintendent Terry Slack. Todd Nelson subsequently met with the board in a closed session to discuss the proposal, Slack said.

The farm, located within the Dells city limits, “is centrally located within the district’s boundaries,” the release said, and characterized by project architects as “a nearly perfect site for this type of project.”

The board also will pursue funding options via the .25-percent Premier Resort Tax collected by the city and the village of Lake Delton, which “preliminary estimates” indicate could offset “the overall local impact of a potential new high school.”

The school board will discuss potential next steps at its Aug. 14 “work session,” which also will include an update regarding the District’s financial standing as the board prepares to consider the proposal, Slack said.

“We will take a little bit of time to have some dialogue about it,” Slack said. “With this information released for four or five days and swirling around in the community, the board members will get a good idea if this is resonating.”

Reactions on the district’s Facebook page were mostly positive as of the morning following the announcement, Slack said, with a count of approximately 8,500 views of the posting.

The Nelsons also have offered to donate an additional 65 acres of the farmland “for additional educational spaces,” the release said.

“This land could eventually be master planned to incorporate a future elementary school that could serve students and families west of the Wisconsin River,” it said.

A map of the proposed 80-acre site shows where a new “Phase 1 High School” and “Phase II Elementary School” could be located, with multiple entrances at Fitzgerald Road off Highway 12 as well as possible sites for football, baseball, softball and soccer fields, a playground and parking lots. 

Follow Ed Legge on Twitter @DellsEd. Contact him at 608-432-6591.