Hawthorne Middle School track and field

This field at Hawthorne Middle School would become the permanent home football field for Pocatello High School under the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25’s recently proposed five-year athletic facilities plan.

POCATELLO — A Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 athletic committee formed last year has proposed a five-year plan that would equip all three local high schools with turf-covered football fields and three middle schools with full-length soccer fields.

Described as a “game changer” for the Gate City community by district officials, the plan involves several projects including the creation of a new football field for Pocatello High School, a number of upgrades to the facilities at Century High School and Iron Horse Stadium at Highland High School as well as changes to the tracks and fields at Alameda, Franklin and Irving middle schools to reshape those facilities into full-length soccer fields and practice fields for middle school track.

“Our community has been begging for something like this for years and I think fulfilling that community need is critical,” School District 25 spokesperson Courtney Fisher told the Idaho State Journal during a Wednesday phone interview. “We go to other venues across the state and see these state-of-the-art facilities and know that this is going to be a game changer for our community. Our community and our student athletes deserve top-notch facilities.”

The five-year plan, tentatively estimated to cost around $4.5 million, is the brainchild of School District 25’s Outdoor Athletic Facilities Planning Committee. School District 25 Director of Student Services and Athletics Tonya Wilkes leads the committee, a body that includes a School District 25 board member, staff and administrators, athletic directors from each of the three high schools and two middle schools and various community stakeholders.

Shortly after she was hired in July 2019, Wilkes was presented with a vision and an emergent need for district student athletes. Instead of a creating another athletic committee that dissolves after fulfilling a five-year plan, School District 25 Superintendent Doug Howell asked Wilkes to create an evergreen athletic committee, one that lasts longer than five years and works to “promote and support equitable opportunities for athletics and activities while recognizing the profound ability to build relationships, cultivate pride and purpose and bring the community together,” Wilkes said while citing the committee’s guiding mission.

“Our overall goal is to maximize our existing assets and resources with further capital investments in our outdoor athletic facilities,” Wilkes added. “This is our expansive plan to address some critical infrastructure needs and make all three high school outdoor athletic facilities fully functional.”

The new athletic committee was created last October and the group continued to meet monthly to develop a five-year-plan for the district’s several outdoor athletic facilities. The first time Wilkes presented the plan to the Board of Trustees was in March — just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the Gem State.

When Wilkes presented the plan to the board again last month, she said it was clear leveraging investment to ensure each local high school possessed an equitable athletic facility capable of hosting games and events was paramount after experiencing both negative and positive impacts to District 25 sports related to the virus pandemic.

“As our student athletes experienced the loss of participation in spring sports, our teachers, coaches, administrators, parents and community members began to better understand the impact and importance of these sports and activities on our youth,” Wilkes said during the Sept. 15 board meeting at the district’s main office on Pole Line Road. “Out of necessity, our perspectives and priorities had to change.”

A week before the football season was set to begin, School District 25 learned indoor gathering restrictions would prevent Idaho State University’s Holt Arena from hosting football games. Up until this year, that venue served as the primary location for varsity football games for the three local high schools.

“The athletic directors, coaches, athletes, community leaders all rallied together to identify facilities capable of holding varsity football games while meeting safety regulations,” Wilkes said during the board meeting. “Utilizing Coke wagons as press boxes, tables as ticket booths, truck tailgates as broadcasting platforms, scissor lifts for game filming, we were able to host visiting teams.”

The pandemic only bolstered the athletic committee’s desire to develop a five-year plan that created not just more opportunities for student athletes, but more flexibility and asset usage for the district, Wilkes told the Journal on Wednesday.

Specifically, the first part of the plan involves the Outdoor Athletic Facilities Planning Committee presenting the district’s Capital Improvement Program Committee with a request to reallocate $2.1 million currently designated for middle school track projects toward the new plan that includes changes to both high school and middle school outdoor athletic facilities.

The projects slated for the first two years are estimated to cost $2.2 million and are dependent on future funding allocations from the Capital Improvement Program Committee. They are not scheduled in a fixed, particular order, Fisher said.

The first year phase includes removing all but two lanes of the tracks at Irving, Franklin and Alameda middle schools to make room for full-length soccer fields. The outside two lanes will serve as walking paths for community members to continue using as well as the starting point for what will become grass middle school track practice lanes. Middle School track teams will continue to use the grass and two remaining track lanes for practice and the high school tracks for meets and events.

Within the first the two years, another phase one project involves the creation of Pocatello High School’s own home football field inside the recently renovated track at Hawthorne Middle School, complete with the installation of concessions, restrooms, locker rooms, bleachers and lights.

The other projects scheduled in the first year include upgrades to the concessions, restrooms and locker rooms at both Highland and Century high schools.

The plan then recommends spending $750,000 in each of the next three years to install turf fields at the three high school football facilities.

Eventually, the goal is to secure portable, seasonal domes to encase the turf-covered fields in the winter months to allow spring training for athletes in baseball, softball and track, Wilkes added.

The plan simultaneously addresses many current facility needs and challenges while also allowing the district to better plan for the future, Wilkes said. And it’s not just District 25 student athletes who will benefit, but so will the entire community at large, she added.

“Our focus was to bring our facilities up to speed so they are on par with other high schools across the region and state,” Wilkes said. “What I was identifying was that this was a game changer that will be a resource for all learners, our athletes, and the entire community. It will benefit thousands of student athletes and community members for years to come.”