By Daniel Kerwin
Journal Sports Writer
NEW ULM - With the New Ulm Cathedral High School gymnasium approaching its 60th anniversary, there was little doubt over recent years that the gym's original bleachers probably wouldn't last until the 2013-14 school year when the anniversary will be marked.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
The New Ulm Cathedral High School gymnasium is shown with its new bleachers. The installation of the bleachers was completed earlier this month.
The only thing that was needed to put a project in motion to replace the bleachers was the right kind of spark.
Brian Nosbush provided just the spark that was needed.
In the spring of 2011, Nosbush - then a junior at CHS - saw a flier displayed in the school office for the Toyota Drive for Education essay contest, a competition that would provide the winning entries with funding for school projects detailed in the essays. For his entry, Nosbush chose to write about how the school's bleachers were in need of replacement.
"I saw [the flier] and they asked if I would be interested in writing an essay for the Toyota sponsored event, and so I just said, 'Why not,'" Nosbush said. "It didn't have to be a real long essay, and I just had to write about why I thought we could use new bleachers and everything that we could do with new bleachers, and how our old ones, they were alright, but they were definitely getting old."
Nosbush's essay earned CHS $2,500 to go toward the project. After the check was presented to CHS Athletic Director John Vetter at the 2011 State High School Hockey Tournament, the planning process to install new bleachers was put into full swing.
"[Toyota Drive for Education's] program is designed to have schools talk about things that they need and don't have the funding for, and then they judge the merit of the request and the quality of the essay," Vetter said. "They select 10 or 12 schools to receive money, and we received $2,500 because of Brian's essay... that check for $2,500 was a big thing for us."
Over the main fundraising portion of the project from October through January, CHS received donations from 198 contributors for a total of $61,810. The contributions included one $10,000 donation and one $5,000 donation.
A total of 111 people donated $100 apiece. The school's Metro Area Golf Outing fundraiser also provided $3,800 for the project.
"When we solicited money, we estimated the cost would be about $100 a seat," Vetter said. "We're going to be able to come in a little bit under that, I think."
The installation of the new bleachers was performed by the Ellendale-based company Seating and Athletic Facility Enterprises. The project was completed earlier this month.
The upgrades that the new bleachers afford have already been very apparent.
"[The old bleachers] were kind of rickety, and a lot of the screws and stuff were coming out," Nosbush said. "The bottoms wouldn't really fit in nicely anymore and everything in them was manual, you had to pull them out and put them in. The new ones are electric, so it's a lot easier."
The new bleachers are comprised of a metal frame and plastic seats, making them a lot sturdier than the old wooden ones. The bleachers on both sides of the gym are mounted on a track that allows them to be pulled out and stowed away by remote control, which takes around 20 seconds for each action.
The old bleachers could only be moved in or out manually, which was a much slower process that Vetter can't remember the exact duration of.
"I don't know, our backs were hurting too much to count," Vetter said.
In total there are 647 seats in the new bleachers and eight wheelchair spaces. There are also seven aisles spaced throughout the bleachers to allow for easier access.
There are fewer seats in the new bleachers than were in the old ones, but Vetter sees this as a necessary sacrifice that brought much greater gains in return.
"Because of the aisles and because of the four inches more leg room, we probably lost in the area of 100 seats," Vetter said. "But it's worth it for what we got in return... Overall the seats are going to be safer, they'll be more comfortable, they'll be easier to pull out or push in. Those are big advantages."
A demographic that Vetter mentions that will particularly benefit from the new bleachers are retirees that attend games.
"There are a good number of retired people who are looking for things to do for some entertainment that's inexpensive, and they go to high school athletic events," Vetter said. "I think they will be more likely to come to our gym because we have aisles for them to walk up rather than trying to just walk up the bleachers. Also, they don't have to sit in the front row where they might have a player run into them."
Despite the need for occasional repairs, the old bleachers lasted a total of 58 years. They were the original bleachers from when the gymnasium first opened for the 1953-54 school year.
With one of the advantages of the new bleachers being much easier repairs, Vetter is hoping that they can last for many decades as well.
"We're told that the bleachers should last 30 to 40 years," Vetter said. "If a bleacher seat breaks, the individual seat would be replaceable. If we put a crack in a bleacher board, we'd have to replace the entire board - here you just have to replace the individual seat."
Last but not least among the upgrades, the new bleachers also add a burst of color to the gymnasium that wasn't afforded by the natural wood color of the old bleachers.
The decision was made to use school colors for the bleachers' plastic seats, with the final maroon color chosen from a list of five different possible maroons.
"We're happy that we chose the color maroon, it works nicely in the gym, it's our school color," Vetter said. "It adds some color to the gym."
Although the new bleachers will of course be put to good use at CHS sporting events, the benefits of installing them will also be felt throughout other areas of school life.
"A high school gym can be the heart of a school, namely as a gathering spot for many events and activities," Vetter said. "There are many more activities than sporting activities that do take place in it because it's a large space. It's nice for us to have places for people to sit."
In addition to PE classes, sports practices and games, the gymnasium hosts activities that range from parent-teacher conferences to the Industrial Arts Show, which was held in gym earlier this week.
Vetter mentioned that the event that fills the gym the most during the year is probably the elementary school's Grandparents Day program, with large events such as assemblies, band and choir concerts, Homecoming Pepfest and Coronation and advent services also bringing big crowds to the space throughout the year.
CHS will have to wait until the fall to test the bleachers at a sporting event for the first time. By that time Nosbush - a standout player for the Greyhounds' boys' basketball team - will have graduated, though he's looking forward to being able to use the bleachers in his new role as a spectator at Greyhounds games.
"They look nice," Nosbush said. "I'm glad that it all came together nicely and I'm looking forward to using them as a spectator in these upcoming years."