Dunwoody High School cheerleaders cheered and the marching band played Sunday as more than 500 students, family and friends of Dunwoody High School celebrated the ribbon-cutting of the new field athletic facilities and improvements paid for by the Game On Capital Campaign, led by the Dunwoody High School Community Association.
Since starting to raise funds just two years ago, Game On has raised enough to spend approximately $450,000 to upgrade the aging facilities by resurfacing the track, cleaning up the landscaping and adding guest seating for 1,000, a fence around the track and field, two storage sheds, a founders wall and walkway and a brick-and-cement plaza for pep rallies and other school gatherings .
The worn-out multipurpose field will soon be re-graded and resurfaced with artificial turf through SPLOST funds. Next on the list is much-needed LED field lighting.
But an impending deadline is endangering the momentum. If the Game On Capital Campaign doesn’t raise another $25,000 by Sept. 5, a contractor’s bid to install the lighting will expire and the entire two-to-three-month bidding process, all handled by DeKalb County, will have to start again.
“If that happens, we definitely won’t have lights for our fall sports,” said Game On Executive Committee Chair Melissa Humphries.
The significance of the lights requires a little background for readers not involved with the school.
At DHS, whatever enhancements DeKalb County doesn’t pay for, private funds must. Known for academic excellence, DHS is an AP Merit School and a STEM Achievement School, with additional enrichment opportunities offered by extracurricular academic programs enhanced by state-of-the-art learning facilities provided by a recent building renovation.
But no such accolades can be applied to the school’s field athletic facilities, which include a softball field, a baseball field (the only on-campus field with lights) and one heavily overused multipurpose field that is the only practice field for varsity and JV football, boys and girls varsity and JV soccer and lacrosse, the marching band and all PE classes.
On that single field, the soccer and lacrosse teams also play their home games. Without lights, field use is limited to daylight hours. As the days shorten, the field can’t meet all the demands, and many of the teams have to travel to off-campus practice facilities.
In 2014, the Dunwoody High School Community Association – a group of parents, alumni and other friends of the school – took the first step to fix the situation with a feasibility study that resulted in a master plan to upgrade the existing facilities to a level comparable to that of the rest of the school. In October 2016, they launched the Game On Capital Campaign to raise the money. The improvements celebrated by the community on Sunday were entirely paid for by the campaign.
With the renovation of the multipurpose field imminent, lighting the field to allow use after dark is the logical next step.
“Having lights would keep everybody at home and safe. Nobody wants to travel to Chamblee when we can have games and practice in our backyard,” said Humphries. “Not having lights puts a lot of high-schoolers on the road and cuts down on attendance at events.”
The bid covers four light poles of LED lighting, the kind of lighting now being installed throughout the DeKalb school system.
“It’s friendly to the community because the lights are concentrated and are directed at the field, without the traditional runoff spreading outward,” said Executive Committee member Steve Fortenberry, a popular DHS teacher and also a DHS alumnus. “You won’t notice the lights outside the stadium. They’re also more energy efficient than the old lights and light up a field just as well.”
The lights are now in jeopardy because of the DeKalb County process of awarding construction contracts. All bids over $100,000 must go through the county in a lengthy formal procedure, even though the county is not paying the bill. The county approves several bids and lets the school select one, with 90 days to come up with the money.
When the DHS lighting bids came in, they were all higher than the group had anticipated.
“We went with the cheapest bid,” said Humphries, which at $328,000 was $88,000 more than the $240,000 they had budgeted.
But instead of giving up, the group re-grouped, started a GoFundMe page in addition to the donation button on the website and planned the rally that occurred Sunday.
“Instead of letting it go, we decided to go to the community,” said Humphries. “If we have to go back through the process, it will take another three months, and the new bid could be even higher.”
Through social media and word of mouth, people began learning of the situation. Two weeks ago, Carol Gaultney, a DHS parent, wrote an impassioned letter to The Crier about it. Donations began to pour into the GoFundMe page. As of this past weekend, the shortfall had dropped from $88,000 to $25,000.
“And we raised more money yesterday [Sunday],” said Humphries. Fellow Executive Committee Pat Tallmadge, a Dunwoody city councilor, is currently tabulating the new numbers, which are not available at press time.
One thing for certain is that however much was raised on Sunday, it will not be enough to cover the full $328,000 by the Sept. 5 deadline.
Anyone wishing to make a donation, no matter how small, has two options: • For smaller donations, the Go Fund Me page: gofundme.com/dunwoody-high-athletic-lighting/donate
• For larger donations with a letter suitable for tax-deduction purposes, the Game On Capital Campaign page: dunwoody alumni.org/game-on-capital-campaign.
The Dunwoody High School Community Association is a non-profit, 501(3)c organization that works to support the efforts of Dunwoody High School, the community and the alumni. Any money raised over the amount needed for the lights will go toward the next phase, which will fund a concession stand, field bathrooms, lighting for the softball fields and home seating.
“Our academics and arts are phenomenal. Our athletics facilities are the only thing lacking,” said Fortenberry. “This is about the whole community, not just sports. It’s a matter of school pride and gives everybody a chance to be a leader.”