Gibraltar Gets A Facelift

When school resumes in September, students at Gibraltar School may scarcely recognize their newly refurbished digs. By then, the final touches on a 15-month, $4 million renovation of the grounds and heating and cooling infrastructure will be nearly complete.

The baseball, track, and football fields received great upgrades as part of Gibraltar High School’s 14-month renovation.

Passersby have no doubt noticed the torn up parking lot, stripped-down façade, and mounds of dirt and rubble at the school throughout the summer, but they’ve only seen a hint of what the renovation entailed.

“What people see from the curb is probably less than 20 percent of the cost and scope of the project,” said Superintendent Dr. Steve Seyfer.

Over the last year the school’s heating, water and air systems, which date to 1971, have all been replaced with new systems capable of much greater energy-efficiency. Outside, the parking lot and entryway have been redesigned and athletic fields brought back to competition level. A rededication will take place in September after Bridenhagen Landscaping puts the final touches on the grounds.

Gibraltar High School circa 1918.

Fans of Gibraltar fall sports will recognize the improvements immediately. Attendees at volleyball games will sit in new bleachers thanks to an $80,000 booster club project made possible by gifts from anonymous donors and the Sister Bay Lions Club. Those new bleachers will comfortably seat fans under new lights that have eliminated the dark spots in the gym. The school received a 60 percent grant for the energy-efficient lighting from Focus on Energy.

Last year renovations were completed to the track and football field. Thanks to a new rubberized track Gibraltar was able to host its first certified track meets in years, Dr. Seyfer said.

Gibraltar High School after its last major renovation in 1972.

Paul Bremel, the school’s math teacher and track and field coach, said the new surface made a major impression on his athletes.

“It’s by far the best surface of any Door County school,” he said. “To have the students feel their sport is valued and they’re an important part of Gibraltar High School athletics is huge.”

The softer field flex surface enables the team to train harder with less worry about fatigue and injury. The old asphalt surface was riddled with bumps and cracks, some an inch thick.

New bleachers add some school colors to the high school gym.

“It was just a hazard,” Bremel said.

New bleachers, lighting, and a new press box rounded out the track and football field project.

This spring Gibraltar’s baseball field was spruced up thanks to a private donation. To honor former longtime coach Rod “Chief” Billerbeck, signs recognizing the conference titles earned under the legendary coach, as well the 1979 state championship team, were added to the outfield fence. Foul poles, playing field upgrades, and a new press box and concession stand were also added to Billerbeck Field.

Band director Charlie Eckhardt’s classroom will soon be littered with instruments, not tools, and feature state of the art sound rooms.

Dr. Seyfer said the timing of the booster club contributions couldn’t have been better.

“We’ve been able to stretch [the renovations] out with booster dollars,” Dr. Seyfer said. As a result, the impression of the school’s athletics is changing. “We’ve moved from being one of the lower lights in the conference in terms of athletic facilities to one of the highlights.”

A bird’s eye view of Gibraltar High School from 1951.

The changes to the front of the school grounds will result in a much safer environment for students and Door Community Auditorium users. Parking has been separated from the driveway and pedestrian walkway, which were previously all one in the same. A raised curb sidewalk for pedestrians is now in place in front of the school, and a bus only lane will be used for student pickup and drop-off, eliminating the co-mingling of students, busses and cars each morning and afternoon.

“We used to knock on wood that we wouldn’t have an accident,” Dr. Seyfer said. “We were lucky.”

The flagpole has been moved to a more prominent location in front of the school office and main entrance. New outdoor lighting should make nighttime access to the school and auditorium much improved, and the project will be finished off in August and September with the completion of landscaping to include maple trees, shrubs, and other greenery throughout the property.

Inside, the school has effectively been a construction site for the past 14 months, with workmen on the roof, and ceiling tiles removed to provide workers with access to pipes, wiring, and lighting.

Dr. Seyfer was impressed with the way Gibraltar’s students and faculty dealt with the upheaval.

“There were virtually no hiccups,” he said. “The faculty and students did a wonderful job acclimating to what was basically a warehouse look.”

The new parking configuration includes a bus-only lane to improve safety.

Natural light has been enhanced with new windows, and bank lighting has been designed so classrooms can turn on lights on one side of the classroom and rely on natural light on the other.

Less visible work was completed on the back side of the school, where the kitchen was renovated in 2007 with new coolers, ovens, and cooking kettles to replace equipment bought used in the 1970s. Just down the hall the music wing was expanded, as participation in band has risen under the directorship of Charlie Eckhardt.

Other changes include an updated fire alarm system, new storage building behind the school, and a renovated office with large windows to make for better supervision of the high school entrance and lobby.

A separate project with dollars taken from the school’s general fund will improve landscaping at the auditorium this fall or in the spring of 2009. The auditorium is owned by the school and rented to the Door Community Auditorium Association. The front of the performing arts facility has been bare since a row of trees was removed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in the spring of 2007.

Bremel said the whole package of enhancements and additions will change impressions of students and the public.

“The improvements are so important, just to look at the building and see what looks like a great facility,” he said.