East High

An anonymous East High alum donated $1 million for a new 2,500 capacity "spectator gymnasium." The facility would be big enough to hold the entire East High student body. 

Madison East High School could have a state-of-the-art athletics facility by the end of 2019, made possible, in part, by a $1 million donation from an anonymous alumnus.

East High Principal Mike Hernandez said he was approached by an anonymous donor who asked for a tour of the school’s new theater. The East High alumnus asked Hernandez what he could do with $1 million.

“If you go 10 to 15 minutes outside of our circle, 21st century facilities are throughout,” Hernandez said. “I am not saying we deserve it more than anyone else, but this (project) would be one of our keys to bring our community, our little ones back in as future Purgolders and a sense of pride on the east side.”

The $2.8 million multi-use project would mean ADA accessible restrooms, new locker rooms, secure entrances and updates to lighting, finishes, seating, flooring and equipment for East High students and visitors.

With an estimated capacity of 2,500, the new gym would be large enough to accommodate the entire East High student body. Hernandez said the space is needed to increase the sense of community at East.

“Over the last three years we’ve had a focus of bringing a family center-feel back into our community,” Hernandez said. “We attempted to do a homecoming pep rally... and I had to hope that 500 students left because we did not have the capacity. That’s not what family does.”

Chad Wiese, director of building services for the district, echoed Hernandez’s concerns about the lack of space at East, pointing out that athletic practices happen in spaces throughout the school, not just the gym.

“Mike has his cheer, dance, and wrestling teams practicing in hallways... they are doing everything they can to be creative, but they are a little landlocked in terms of available space,” Wiese said.

The $1 million donation, coupled with an additional $300,000 in pledged funds from other sources, makes a dent in the $2.8 million budget proposal for the new space, but the school district would have to pick up the rest of the tab.

Board member TJ Mertz questioned how much influence fundraisers should have on building projects and where the project fits into MMSD’s long range facilities plan.

“This kind of vision isn’t contemplated at all. Admittedly, because it wasn’t on the table. But, the report does show, across the district, (other) athletic needs that we haven’t discussed or prioritized,” Mertz said.

“I am absolutely undecided at this point, but if a $1 million donor here gets you to jump to the front of a line that hasn’t even been created yet, that’s problematic to me when we don’t have our own priorities. That’s not East’s fault or the donor’s fault. That’s on us.”

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Hernandez said East plans to continue fundraising efforts.

School Board member Kate Toews gave her “wholehearted and unreserved support” for the project, and thinks it can serve as an example for other large donors.

“Our facilities matter. I am grateful that we have relationships and folks in our community who are willing to help us provide facilities that are as high quality as our students deserve,” Toews said. “I’d like to make it easy enough for this whole transaction to happen that it can set a model for other transactions.”

Last year, MMSD commissioned Plunkett Raysich Architects to complete a facilities assessment of school buildings. Overall, East High received a “D” grade, with “specialty facilities” (including athletic accommodations) rated “C.”

The current field house, built in 1971, was named for beloved East High Principal Milton McPike and East High plans to retain the name. McPike was Madison East High School’s principal from 1979 until his retirement in 2002. McPike was named Wisconsin’s Principal of the Year in 1997.

In addition to student needs, the eastside community also uses the field house for youth sports and other activities.

On Monday, Hernandez, Wiese and assistant superintendent of business for MMSD Mike Barry shared a memo with the School Board outlining a conditional timeline for the project, with completion set for December 2019.