It was a bittersweet day when the Lake Forest High School (LFHS) Football Team played their last game on the historic Lindenmeyer Field at the East Campus in 2007. The Scouts moved to the West Campus football stadium with its newer facilities and increased capacity that has served them very well.
Many of the school’s other teams still call the East Campus home—Lindenmeyer Field continues to serve the LFHS wellness curriculum and other recreation and fitness activities. Improvements to the East Campus athletic facilities were originally to be part of the 2007 LFHS referendum, but were not included in the final plans. Since then, challenging economic times and budget cutbacks forced the school to forestall capital improvements, and the East Campus facilities continued to deteriorate to the point where they have outlived their useful purpose as suitable athletic venues. In the spring of 2011 alone, more than 100 LFHS athletic events were canceled due to unplayable natural grass surfaces.
This is all about to change thanks to the LFHS Boosters, who have taken up the charge to lead a $2.5 million capital campaign—the Diamond Anniversary Campaign—to fund a new multipurpose sports complex at Lindenmeyer Field.
Forest & Bluff sat down with Brian Vandenberg, co-chair of the Diamond Anniversary Campaign and Immediate Past President of the Boosters, and Ellen Funk, current Boosters President.
Forest & Bluff: You have been credited with transforming the Boosters into a cutting-edge philanthropic organization. Tell us about your role with the Boosters over the past several years and what the board has accomplished under your leadership.
Brian Vandenberg: Thank you—that’s kind. We’ve benefited from a great board, incredible cooperation from the school, and strong membership. The Booster Club is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, volunteer organization whose mission is to promote and support athletic success, spirit, and sportsmanship at Lake Forest High School.
The impact of the economic downturn on school funding encouraged us to look to new methods of fund-raising to help support our mission. An important step was to establish our Community Partnership Program, through which we partner with area businesses like Abbott, NorthShore University HealthSystem, and Fields Automotive Group in support of LFHS athletics.
Ellen Funk: These corporate sponsorships have allowed us to support initiatives such as need-based participation grants, coach’s professional development grants, summer sports camps, injury prevention programs like our ImPACT concussion testing program, and underwrite costs of equipment for LFHS teams. Since athletics are such a visible platform, we’ve also leveraged our Community Partners’ industry expertise to support other programs that benefit the school generally, beyond athletics.
BV: The new “Images of Excellence” mural at West Campus is an extension of our Community Partnership Program—and it has captured people’s imaginations as to what this community is capable of doing without touching school district dollars.
Initiatives like these have helped take the Boosters to the next level. They were important because those projects laid the foundation to demonstrate what’s possible in terms of enhancing the school’s programs and facilities through non-traditional sources of funding.
F&B: Tell us about the Diamond Anniversary Campaign and how it is going.
BV: The Diamond Anniversary Campaign is a special capital campaign to fund the new outdoor sports complex at the LFHS East Campus. This will be a multi-use venue that will include a new state-of-the-art track-and-field facility and two new synthetic turf fields, marked for football, soccer, field hockey, and boys and girls lacrosse. New bleachers and a new press box will further enhance the facility.
We launched the campaign in August and surpassed our initial milestone of $1 million in the first 90-day phase of the campaign. This keeps us on target to have the new complex completed in time for the 2012–2013 school year. I’m thrilled with the progress, but we have a lot more work to do. And we need widespread participation from the community.
F&B: Can you explain how this is a different approach to fund-raising in the public school arena?
BV: This campaign came about in response to concerns from members of the community about our deteriorating East athletic facilities, at a time when the school district is unable to address the needs alone. Typically, in a public school setting, school districts fund a project of this magnitude through a referendum—like Lake Forest did in 2007 to upgrade our academic and performing arts facilities. That’s simply not feasible in today’s economic environment. So, we’re forced to be creative, and we’ve borrowed the tool used by private institutions to fund their capital improvements. We’re simply doing it in a public school setting, with a private group—the Boosters—driving the capital campaign. The result is a true private/public partnership.
F&B: How will the new sports complex benefit the entire school population and the community?
EF: The new sports complex will quadruple the hours of availability for use by various LFHS programs, youth programs, club sports, and the public for recreation and fitness. While it is located on LFHS property, this facility touches the whole community.
Virtually every LFHS student will use the facility, whether or not they are involved in interscholastic athletics, including wellness classes, the marching band, and intramural leagues. Deer Path Middle School has a great track-and-field program, but no track; they currently train and compete on grass fields, weather permitting. The new complex will also open up more opportunities for intramural sports and grade school students. Other groups like the Lake Forest Recreation Department’s Youth Football League, Great Lake Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA), local running clubs, and community members use the track and facilities throughout the year.
BV: Another important point is that this new facility will provide additional revenue sources for the school district through rental fees for club sports, such as soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey, to name a few. Facilities for these programs are in short supply. And, it will enable the high school to host significant events in many sports, including regional and sectional competitions, with corresponding new revenue opportunities.
F&B: Is there anything else that makes this project noteworthy?
BV: Ultimately, this is a community project. It is a gift to ourselves and to future generations, and it’s intended to maximize programs and year-round opportunities for all LFHS students and for the entire community. Every contribution—of any amount—is important and will make a difference, and pledges can be spread over five years. Donors will be permanently acknowledged on a donor wall in the entry plaza and on engraved pavers. How great would it be to have every family in the community listed on that wall? This facility will become one of the jewels of LFHS and this community.
To learn more about the Diamond Anniversary Campaign, visit diamondcampaign.org.