The campus of the new Verona Area High School has many auxiliary facilities spread out throughout its 100-plus acres.
Those include a performing arts center that can seat 1,000, a warm water pool and enough fields and courts for every Verona Area High School student to practice and compete in athletics on their home turf – a first in recent history. Its fieldhouse contains five basketball courts and an indoor track, its pool area has two pools and its outdoor facilities include access to the Military Ridge State Trail and a school forest much larger than the one adjacent to the old building.
And those amenities will be used by many more people than high school-age students, superintendent Dean Gorrell told the Press.
“There will be kids from the youngest ages using those facilities, whether it’s the track or the fieldhouse, or the basketball courts, or the PAC for little kids’ plays and musicals,” he said. “(The high school) was built as a community asset, not just for kids in grades 9-12, but for our youngest and our oldest, and everything in between.”
The amenities will expand on what the district already uses.
So while it will keep using the Natatorium at the old high school – now Badger Ridge Middle School – it will add an aquatic center with two pools to the mix.
One pool in the aquatic center is designed for competition, with eight lanes and a diving area and seating for up to 800, while the other is an 88-degree warm water pool that will be used to teach swimming lessons and be used by the community.
“The community came together to be able to make this possible,” district athletic director Joel Zimba said. “We wanted to make sure they were repaid, essentially, for everything they’ve been able to provide our students-athletes with.”
The 40-acre Stewart’s Woods along the bend of the U.S. Hwy. 18-151 bypass, named for a family that was among Verona’s pioneers in the 1840s and once lived on that land, will be an addition to the significantly smaller school forest that is currently located northwest of BRMS.
The district bought the old-growth forest in 2017 from the state – which had purchased it when building the bypass – and plans to also use it as a prairie area, as well as for stormwater retention and infiltration.
And the district’s second performing arts center, with a larger capacity and seats throughout, rather than partial bleachers, complementing an already immensely popular PAC.
It will have better sight lines than the one at the old high school, allowing people to see the action on stage from no matter where they’re sitting, VAHS band director Eric Anderson said. It also will be more accessible to classes that use it.
“We wanted to create a unified Fine Arts hub within the building that would bring together the performing arts and the visual arts,” he wrote in an email to the Press. “This brought together the music classrooms, art classrooms, PAC, and art gallery into what is essentially a fine arts core in the west wing of the building, all centered around the Fine Arts Lobby.”
Bringing them home
While there won’t be sports at any district facilities for a while, owing to the spread of COVID-19, when they do resume, the phrase “a home game” will finally mean it.
Previously, athletic fields and practices were spread around Verona, and extended into Madison. Soccer players always went to Reddan Soccer Park, about a mile northeast, for their games, while baseball and softball went to opposite sides of Verona – softball about a mile to the north, behind Country View Elementary, baseball about a mile southeast to Stampfl Field, along East Verona Avenue.
And gymnastic athletes left the district all together, traveling nine miles away to Edgewood High School for practice and competitions.
Now, all of those facilities are brought together onto the high school campus.
“That is something that’s not common when you talk about any high school facility,” he said. “That’s really just the biggest thing, being able to provide world-class facilities to our student athletes that they’ll remember, honestly, for the rest of their lives.”
The campus also features turf grass on the football and soccer/lacrosse fields and a new cross country course that takes athletes throughout the southern side of the campus.
“When you look at the amount of space you can fit runners while they’re competing through the course – really, it’s never like you’re going through a narrow passage where you need to watch where you’re stepping,” he said.
Students will also be able to run indoors on the track in the fieldhouse, although the flooring on the track isn’t meant to withstand track cleats, as the lanes overlap with practice basketball courts.
“It’s a unique thing to bring students indoors if weather is bad,” Zimba said. “They can still achieve the same type of training they would outdoors.”
Last year, some coaches and parents expressed concerns the baseball field was too short, but Zimba told the Press its 350-foot outfield fence is deep enough for varsity play.
The weight room is equipped with a turf that will allow students to pull sleds while training indoors, TV screens so coaches can project what workouts students need to be doing and a cardio room with treadmills, bikes and a machine that can help a student develop their swing for baseball, softball or golf, Zimba said.
“Anything that our student-athletes need and beyond, everything is up there for you to make sure they can achieve the goals that they have,” he said.
Building in capacity
The 40 year old pool area at the previous high school was tight on space and wasn’t the correct specifications to hold some regional competitions, Natatorium director Angie Lucas told the Press in an email.
“We will have a lot more space for our school children (and) it will be wonderful to be able to host events and still have our other facilities available for our community members,” wrote Lucas, who led the design on the new pool facilities.
The original Natatorium, which will still be used at what will become Badger Ridge Middle School, will add to the district’s capacity to be able to accommodate swimming events.
“We have been really tight on swimming space at the Natatorium for many years and to be able to design a facility like this is exciting,” she wrote. “We have the need for … all three (counting the Natatorium). We have many requests for time and our school district has grown quite a bit since the Natatorium opened in 1979.”
Zimba said the aquatic center provides increased accessibility for people with walking ramps into the both pools, who might otherwise have difficulty going down the stairs.
“Just the overall size of the pool, and the options that you have within that facility, is just absolutely incredible,” he said.
Unifying the music wing
The new PAC will remove barriers for students and increase accessibility to people with disabilities.
Anderson said that the new high school PAC will include an elevator backstage to provide access to both the lower-level trap door and orchestra pit and the upper-level lighting booth, as well as seating that is more accessible and ramps that lead onto the stage from the audience.
“In the old space, these areas were only accessible by stairs, and in some cases only by very narrow spiral stairs,” he said. “ (The elevator) removes physical barriers to accessing learning spaces and allows all students to more fully engage with the backstage parts of the facility.”
The new PAC seats 300 more than the older one and provides the latest technology to use with theater lighting and sound, Anderson said.
A digital audio network connects the PAC and the music wing, Anderson added, so students in the Music Production classes will be able to create a multi-track recording of a performance from a studio control room.
That, and other elements of the design, were part of an effort from the district’s Vision Design Team to create a music wing on the western side of the building that would allow athletic and music events to take place at the same time with less cross-traffic.
“This was accomplished by putting the fine arts facilities in the west wing of the building and the athletic facilities in the east wing,” he said. “Both areas have their own dedicated pre-function spaces and dedicated entrances on opposite sides of the building.”